How Dilly spent his summer vacation

It’s hard to believe but last summer Dilly wasn’t alive yet. For half of it, he wasn’t even a twinkle in his mother’s uterus. He’s only been living with Steve and me for 8 months, but he’s such a big presence, it feels like he’s been with us for ages.

Had the coronavirus not followed him into the world, we would have missed several weeks of his puppyhood when we traveled to Europe in May. But like so many people’s plans, that trip was canceled. Instead we cobbled together a more pandemic-friendly adventure: a California road odyssey for which Dilly was our game fellow-traveler.

Packing our van with 3 weeks worth of dog provisions reminded us of when we took our oldest son on the road as a toddler. Instead of diapers and child seats and snacks and toddler toys, we had bags of dog food, Dilly’s bed, bowls and brushes and balls and more.

Along with all our gear, it barely fit.

We hit the road July 3. Over the next 21 days, Dilly got to hike in many awesome landscapes: in meadows and mountain trails at Mammoth and Lake Tahoe:

On the Jeep trails that laced through the 75-acre ranch we stayed on in the far reaches of the Sacramento River Valley. We traded our house to stay in that place.

At the foot of volcanic Mt. Lassen.

He got to sniff the needles of the oldest trees on Earth…

Bristlecone pines

… and some of the tallest…

Old-growth redwoods

He met exotic wildlife.

Felina, our son’s family’s feisty Corgi
Madonna, one of the resident horses on the ranch
A fat resident cat at our cabin in the redwoods

The most interesting rug Dilly has ever stretched out on
A touristic bear

He discovered that the world can feel and smell very different from the way it does in San Diego.

Snow on Mt. Lassen
Waterfalls near Mt. Shasta. The air somehow tasted like water!
The headwaters of the Sacramento River tasted like water!
Not far away, the river gets big.
Who knew there was this much fresh water in the world? This was in a canyon whose walls are lined with ferns.

Probably the funnest place was the enormous yard in back of the ranch house. Dilly got to run around in it, off-leash, at 90 miles an hour. He NEVER gets to do that at home.

Most of the time, he brought us daily pleasure. Countless folks admired him, and he reciprocated with love for one and all.

But he wasn’t wild about all the time on the road. For most of the more than 3000 miles we covered, he rode in his kennel, but he often didn’t sleep. We speculated that the twisty blue highways made him uncomfortable. Or maybe he was too warm back there.

For a while, he went out strike, refusing to jump up in his kennel as ordered. Then we had to muscle him in.

A few times I took pity on him and let him sleep at my feet up front.

Then he slept. Sitting up.

He seemed to enjoy everything else about traveling, though. We sensed that what he loved most was getting to spend more time than usual being paid attention to by us.

Dilly’s tasty tail

Steve and I have long been interested in the tails of the CCI puppies we’ve raised over the years. They’re not all the same. Dionne (puppy number #5) had one with a distinct twist at its tip, which gave it a slightly porcine look. The tail of Kyndall (#6) appeared to be kinked, just about an inch from its end. You could see and feel it.

For some time, we nursed a theory that the longer the tail, the more dominant the dog. This notion was fed by the fact that despite his size, Tucker (#1) had a rather wimpy little tail and a docile, submissive personality to match it. Dionne and Darby (#4), both smaller physically, had long tails and — bossed Tucker around unmercifully. But our Tail Dominance theory took a beating with the arrival of Kyndall, who had a nice long tail but was more subservient to Tucker than any other dog he had lived with.

The fact that Dilly’s tail is in a class by itself is hardly surprising. He’s the only purebred Golden Retriever we’ve raised for CCI. Matching the rest of his body, his tail is a magnificent feathered scepter. It’s hard to capture its beauty with a camera; so often it’s in motion, wagging.

We have thus been dismayed recently to notice that very end of Dilly’s tail has begun to resemble… a bony finger.

Notice how it narrows down to an almost furless section.
You can almost see the tail bone that should be holding the fur.

We know why this is happening. We have on occasion caught Dilly in the act of ripping the fur out, though of course we have no idea what would move him to do this. Boredom? Neurosis? Hunger? (Once ripped out, he seems to like chewing the fur. We do not know if he then swallows it.)

We haven’t yet consulted with any authorities about this problem. Steve found an old bottle of bitter apple in the garage, so he is spraying it in the hopes that the bad taste with discourage this bad habit.

We’re not wildly optimistic. Look at the way he’s licking his lips. (Seasoning!)

A harbinger of things to come?

Only one of our previous CCI puppies has been wild about swimming. That was Darby who, when she was little, stared at the water in her bowl in fascination and pawed at it. Before long she discovered the joys of paddling around in our pool. Despite their water-dog heritage, though, most of our other CCI pups have actively avoided getting wet. I’m not sure how Dilly will turn out.

He has slipped and partially fallen into the pool a few times, but that doesn’t appear to have freaked him out. At the same time, he’s never tried to walk down the steps into the water. But it hasn’t been swimming weather, and he’s never seen Steve or me (or any canines) swimming.

So I was startled by what he did Monday morning. We’d been invited to a little play session with Emmett, the pure-bred white Lab he played with last week. This time we met at the home of Emmett and his puppy-raiser, Mary Milton. Joining us was another even younger CCI puppy who also lives in the neighborhood, a feisty black three-month-old male named Corduroy.

The three guys seemed wildly happy to romp together.

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Their sizes are so different now, but that will quickly change.

They explored the great puppy play toys in the yard: a long fabric tunnel, a little raised bed…and a little blue plastic pool filled with a few inches of water. To my astonishment, Dilly stepped right into it. IMG_7108

He sniffed it a bit, then plopped down. IMG_7109

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Is that surprise on his face?  I can’t quite read the expression.

He seemed content to rest there for a moment, then he got out and played some more. But he returned to the water once or twice.

It wasn’t a hot day, though Dilly seems a bit more sensitive to heat than some of the pups we’ve raised. Steve and I speculate that maybe all his fur makes him warm. This experience makes us wonder if, come the true heat of summer, he won’t discover the pleasures of cooling off in deeper water. It will be fun to find out.

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THIS looks like one happy fellow to me.

Six months old!

Today Dilly is six months old. You can see the dog he will become pretty clearly now, I think.IMG_6875.jpegSo different from this little guy:

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His 2-month-old self

Normally this is one of the darker days in a CCI puppy’s life: the point at feedings are supposed to switch from three times a day to a paltry two.  (The pups get the same amount of food overall, but believe me, they LOVE having something doled out at lunch time.)

But Steve and I hypothesize that smaller meals may be easier for Dilly to digest than larger ones. He had so much trouble when he was very little, the last thing we want is to trigger a setback. We have worked our way to the point where he’s now eating two and three-quarters cups of expensive Science Diet and only one-quarter cup of the super- expensive Royal Canin gastrointestinally soothing puppy chow.

We plan to continue that mixture for another day or so, then to go to all Science Diet. We then will switch him ever so gradually to the reasonably priced Eukanuba, CCI’s dog food of choice.

For ridiculously emotional reasons, Steve and I have decided to continue feeding him three times a day until his very last baby tooth falls out. Over the past weeks, all the other razor-sharp molars and incisors and canines have given way to the more rounded adult dog teeth. I’ve found a handful on the floor…

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Here’s my collection

But a single canine remains firmly lodged in upper jaw.

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There it is, lurking behind the adult tooth. 

Until it goes, we plan to continue to feed Dilly at 6:30 am, noon, and 5 pm. And although most of America may be grieving about the toll of the coronavirus, Dilly is benefitting from that too (getting way more walks than usual.)

So all in all, it’s a pretty fine 6-month birthday for this (not so little) guy.IMG_6872.jpeg

 

What price beauty?

IMG_6163.jpegDilly continues to stop onlookers in their tracks. He and I made a quick visit to the vet’s today, where I’d expect pretty much everyone to be inured to nice-looking dogs. But at least a half dozen of the eager young women who work there knelt down to coo over and stroke him. One meekly asked permission if she could take his picture. (I imagine it’s now briskly collecting Likes in cyberspace.)

In front of our local coffeeshop earlier this morning, a young couple pushing a baby stroller halted and stared. “Could I… pet him?” the mom asked. “Oh my god, he is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!” she exclaimed. Glancing at her own baby, an angelic tot about a year old, she added. “I think he’s pretty cute.” (He was.) “But this guy is cuter.” Stroking Dilly’s head, she emitted a soft moan.

We’re not movie stars ourselves, Steve and I, so this kind of response to physical beauty comes as a bit of a jolt. But we’re also learning about the price of such comeliness. The key element of Dilly’s striking good looks is his ethereal golden baby fur. It transforms his skinny little body into a ball of glowing softness. It even grows in luxuriant abundance between his foot pads, and this is a problem, I learned recently.

Dilly and I were attending one of the regular puppy socials hosted by another puppy-raiser, when a veteran raiser of golden retrievers scooped up Dilly and cradled him like a baby. Nodding at his feet, she declared, “You’ve got to trim that.”

I hadn’t noticed the wildly hairy profusion before. “Why?” I stammered.

Uncut, that foot hair would rob him of traction, several people concurred. He’d slide around on slick surfaces. Much discussion followed about the best way to attend to this grooming chore. Some favored electric clippers; others scissors.

Back at home, Steve did some research and reported that the electric dog-grooming tools online looked just like his beard trimmer. “I suppose if you use that, it might make my beard smell doggy,” he reflected. “But you’re the only one who gets close enough to me to notice, and it wouldn’t bother you.”

I worried, though, that the buzzy electric tool might scare Dilly, so I attacked the inter-pad thatch with a long fine pair of scissors. IMG_6166.jpeg

Dilly seemed a tad nervous, but he tolerated the pawdicure well enough. The end result looked like this:IMG_6340.jpeg

So that’s one more chore we must add to our Dilly Maintenance check list. Daily coat-brushing also is beginning to seem more urgent, as his baby coat begins the lifelong process of shedding. 

This is what his brush looked like today after just one minute of use. (Soon we’ll get brushfuls and brushfuls out daily.)IMG_6348.JPG IMG_6350.JPG

Parasite-free!

IMG_6324.jpegThere’s good news and bad news about Dilly’s gut. We took a fecal sample to his vet’s yesterday, and they analyzed it. Apparently some indicators were ambiguous, so they sent it off to a lab for independent analysis. The verdict: neither assessment showed any sign of lingering giardia!

The bad news is that we had the analysis done because after more than a week of his sleeping all night without awakening us, Dilly Wednesday night was whimpering at 11:30 pm, 12:30 pm, 3:30 am, and 5:15.  Because he sounded distressed, we took him outside each time, and a good thing: each time he had terrible diarrhea.

This persisted throughout Thursday, though I think he only got us up twice that night. By Friday we were convinced he was reinfected with the giardia (which we’ve heard often happens). Sleep-deprived and cranky, Steve and I squabbled over what else we could do to rid our yard of this plague. Steve snapped that we had to be more vigilant about preventing him from picking up any leaves or flowers or twigs or mulch pieces from the ground (an activity with which Dilly is obsessed). I argued we should try spraying the patio with a bleach solution — and then make him toilet exclusively on the patio. The bickering got ugly.

Then this morning the vet’s office called. The results made me feel jubilant — although there remains the question of what has upset Dilly’s inner workings. “Some of these purebreds can have kind of delicate digestions,” the vet tech said. “My goldens were like that.” She urged us to concentrate on calming down his system, so we have now begun a regime in which he will be fed a two-to-one ratio of plain rice and cottage cheese in small servings five times a day. We’ve been instructed to keep him on that until his stools have firmed up and stayed that way for 5-7 days, then over the next 5-7 days to gradually reintroduce the puppy kibble.

Once upon a time this program might have made me quail. Now it just feels great to have a blueprint for returning to normalcy (if a bothersome one).

As for Dilly, he looks and acts like a normal puppy — hungry, mischievous, active certain times of the day, but also taking lots of naps. All those night-time outings can exhaust a fellow, he says.

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Three months old…

…today! Here’s what he looked like when we received him, the day after his two-month birthday: DSC06776.jpeg

 

And here he is now, at three months:IMG_6321.jpeg

His head seems more proportionate to his body. His paws look bigger. He has more than doubled in poundage. His coat is as minky-soft as ever (though hairs are now starting to show up on dark items of clothing, whenever we hold him.)

We think we can begin to glimpse the Future Dog (even if he still is unmistakably Puppy.)

Teacher’s pet

Dilly went to his second puppy class last night. He appeared to love it.

Steve had taken him to his first class two weeks ago, on a night when I had another commitment, and he reported then that Dilly thought puppy class was wonderful. There were other small creatures who looked like him! And people who admired him! And so many interesting activities.

I was glad to witness all this myself last night. I couldn’t help but think of Adagio’s first class, when he was barely two months old. That night he made it clear he wanted to roam the room and socialize. When he didn’t get to do that, he yowled. He barked. He emitted ear-splitting shrieks. At the conclusion of the hour, Steve and I slunk out of the room, disheartened.

Last night was a very different experience. If Dilly wasn’t the star pupil, at least he emitted not one single yowl or shriek. He seemed focused and alert throughout the fast-paced succession of activities. We practiced going Down. IMG_6301.jpeg

And I tried to introduce him to the concept of Shaking.

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We’ve got a lot of work to do on that one.

Kay, our instructor, made us trade our pups with other puppy-raisers — an educational experience for both the humans and the dogs. IMG_6300.jpegIMG_6285.jpeg

At the end of the hour Steve and I were feeling exhausted, and Dilly slept soundly in his car kennel all the way home. But at least two of the three of us were feeling encouraged rather than mortified. And we figure it can only get better as time goes by.

 

Puppy’s progress

Here in Puppyland, we’ve had an excellent week. Let me count the ways we are slowly but surely making our way out of the Puppy Hell section of the park.

  1. Despite our delaying his introduction to the halter, this week Dilly has taken to wearing it nicely.  On our first outings, he made some half-hearted attempts to rub it off his muzzle. DSC06797.jpegHe doesn’t look as if he LOVES it.

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    But who would?

But as the days have gone by, he appears to be reconciled to this strange gear. At this rate, I’m not sure we’ll even have to continue for long making him wear it during meals. This morning, we took him on a three-mile walk around our neighborhood, during which he wore the halter and mostly stayed in excellent position, at our side.

2. With the cessation of his diarrhea (thanks to his apparently successful treatment for giardia), he’s been sleeping 7-8 hours every night, without interruption. It’s clear to me  he now understands the Night Protocol: we all crawl into our sleeping spaces and remain quiet until the daylight returns.

This is a life-changing development, and tonight Steve and I will move out of the first-floor guest room (that we had moved to, to avoid breaking our necks while taking the puppy downstairs during the night). We’ll return to our regular bed tonight, and Dilly will begin sleeping in the medium-size kennel that will now become a permanent fixture of our master bedroom.

He needs to begin sleeping in the larger kennel because…

3.) He has grown so much! When we picked him up at the airport three and a half weeks ago, he weighed barely 11 pounds. When Steve took him to the vet’s Tuesday for his second set of shots, he had reached 19 pounds. Just now in our bathroom, he was more than 21.

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He’s now too large to squeeze under our sofa, which just yesterday was a favored hiding place.

4.) He’s learned to Sit, go Down, and — most charming — Speak. On command, pretty reliably.

5) As I was typing that last sentence, he came up to me, put his paws on my lap, and looked at me. Sensing what he was trying to communicate, I leapt up and took him outside, where he quickly peed and pooped.

This is definite progress, though he’s still accidentally peeing in the house now and then. (He has never once defecated indoors.)

I find this all impressive. Few of our previous pups have been so good this early. Not that life with Dilly is cloud-free. Besides continuing to make occasional toileting errors, he also takes passionate pleasure in chewing on things, including our body parts. His baby teeth are needle-sharp; my hands bear the scars.

It was thus a pleasure for me to take him yesterday to a gathering of pups at another puppy-raiser’s home. Dilly raced around, got beat up a little…

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But happily!

…found sheltered spots that only he and the other littlest party-goers could fit in…IMG_6147.jpeg

…and where he could hide out from the bigger kids.IMG_6143.jpeg

After an hour of this heaven, I took him home, and he was out cold for most of the rest of the day.

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A sleepy puppy is an excellent puppy.

 

A breakthrough?

Steve says I shouldn’t write this; that it’s too soon to say anything, lest we anger the Puppy-raising Gods. But I can’t help it: last night Dilly went through the whole night without awakening us!

Granted, it was not a super long night. We turned out the lights a few minutes after 10 pm. Sometime early in the morning, I woke up and couldn’t resist peeking at the clock. It was 4 am — far longer than this puppy had ever slept before. And still he didn’t stir. I miraculously went back to sleep and woke again around 5:10. Dilly slept on.

Steve was stirring next to me, and I could tell he was also awake. I had a fairly strong urge to pee, and I suspected Steve did too. But neither of us adult humans spoke or moved, lest we wake the baby canine and make him aware of his own full bladder. After 10 or 15 minutes, I couldn’t stand it and crept to the bathroom. Steve followed after I was finished. STILL Dilly slept on.

Only about 5:40 did he begin to whimper, at which point Steve, wide awake, sprung to take him out. “He peed a gallon,” he reported upon their return. “But NO poop.” Then he put Dilly back in his kennel (which is inches away from my side of the bed), and — another miracle! — silence returned for another 10 minutes or so.

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He’s a limber little fellow.

Now, in mid-afternoon, Dilly has produced three normal stools so far. This is enough to make me think we have beaten the diarrhea devils, through the combination of feeding him six times a day (but only a quarter cup of kibble each time), giving him supplementary Pro-Pectin and powdered pumpkin, and adding a tablespoon of low-fat cottage cheese to each feeding. Our vet’s assistant suggested the latter. We talked to her when we were dropping off a stool sample yesterday morning. The test cost $45 and came back normal. I have often found when we get desperate enough about some puppy digestive problem to pay for a stool analysis, it invariably comes back normal and the problem almost immediately disappears. So my second hypothesis is that paying the vet something somehow appeases the Puppy-raising Gods; they then cut you some slack.

Yet a third possibility was raised by Dilly’s mom’s breeder-caretaker, who told me his half-sister Zari had an allergic reaction to the anti-flea medication she was given. (Dilly developed his problem almost immediately after taking the same pill.)

I don’t know, nor do I care, which explanation is right. I just hope his gut stays happy. Even if he does wake up a few more times in the middle of the night, he’s given me hope we may all be sleeping better soon.