Some would say that taking your puppy to the mall is more fun than just taking yourself. If you ask me, even more fun than taking one puppy is going with a pack of CCI trainees. That’s what we did last night; it was effectively a puppy-class field trip, led by our effervescent instructor Kay. Adagio was a little young to go. But Kay two weeks ago had said it would be okay. (He’s only two and a half weeks short of his 6-month birthday.)
We assembled near the Target in San Diego’s Mission Valley Mall — a mini-mob of puppy raisers handling 20 or so dogs who ranged from stolid almost-2-year-olds who will shortly begin their professional training to barely-more-than-babies like Adagio.
Part of the fun sprang from the reactions from passersby. We startled some, but brought smiles to many faces.
After doing some simple drills outside, we split into two groups, consisting of younger and older dogs. Then we in the younger pack marched into the Target….
… and trooped up and down the aisles.
Adagio was very attentive, though we had a bad moment, when I noted a look in his eye that often signals an imminent need for him to relieve himself. I literally ran for the exit and we made it out just in time to avoid disgrace. I cleaned up the deposit then was able to rejoin the gang on the store’s second level. CCI dogs never take escalators, but Target has commodious elevators, and riding in them provided a chance to practice good behavior in tight quarters.
Outside again, we practiced walking next to shopping carts, and Steve even introduced Adagio to the “Under” command.
Around 8 pm, some of the puppy-raisers headed for Starbucks, but we’d had enough and went home. We’ll be happy to go again, though. It’s a nice change of pace.
Puppy class was unusually fun last night. There were only four of us in Kinderpup, for some reason, which made the pace mellow. One of the highlights was introducing the gang to the “Car” command, using the back of our teacher, Kay’s car. Since everyone was so young (around 5 months), we lifted them up and helped them in. Chaos ensued: a writhing tangle of tussling puppies. It is a miracle that Kathy Bennett, raiser of Bryce (on the far left), managed to capture this deceptive image of them looking so well mannered.
Note that Adagio (third from right) and his sister, Apple (half-prone), are not exactly in perfect position. (Wait till next year!)
As I have noted in this blog before, Steve and I have come to think of the first two months with any new puppy as Puppy Hell. That’s when the hardest work of puppy-raising takes place. With Adagio, however, or maybe with our increasing store of CCI puppy-raising experience (he’s our eighth), it feels more like mere purgatory.
Most of the time he now sleeps through the night. He’s growing at an astounding rate. Yesterday I took him in for his second (of 4) set of puppy shots, and he weighed 19.8 pounds — almost 8 pounds more than when we got him three weeks ago.
We’ve begun taking him for micro-walks, just around our block, and he seems to adore that. Even though he still despises his halter, he likes being out so much that half the time he forgets he’s wearing it. He still accidentally pees in the house, though it’s no longer several times daily. And although he turns into a hellion when he plays with other young dogs…
…he soon transitions into a calmer state.
I have to confess that once again, Steve and I were completely mortified (and exhausted) at puppy class Monday night. Once again, Adagio disrupted the proceedings by barking and shrieking. He had a wild look in his eyes, like a three-year-old kid on a sugar rampage at a birthday party. It was so bad our teacher suggested he stay in the classroom with us alone when she and all the other young students and their human caretakers did some exercises outdoors.
Later, I looked up my blog post about how Beverly (Adagio’s half-sister) behaved at her first class (back in the summer of 2016). She “barked once or twice, but for the most part she watched the proceedings and cradled calmly,” I wrote then. At first this reminder of Beverly perfection dismayed me. But then I did the calculations and realized Beverly was more than four weeks older, at that point.
So we’re cutting Adagio some slack. We think he’ll shape up. Even now, a spell in purgatory with him doesn’t feel that tortuous.
I found puppy class to be pretty stressful last night. Adagio seemed to feel that way too. It was the first time Steve and I have ever taken such a young youngster to class. Due to a combination of circumstances, our last puppy, Beverly (Adagio’s half sister) was more than three months old the first time we went to a class, and she behaved with impressive calm. Adagio is only two months and four days. He became intensely excited the moment we lifted him out of the car. That pretty much never ended for the hour that followed.
Both his sister Apple, her puppy-raiser Cyndy, and we arrived at the same moment, and both babies lost their minds when they saw each other. We took seats on opposite sides of the large classroom, but Adagio made it clear he wanted to roam the room and socialize. When he didn’t get it, he yowled. He barked. He emitted ear-splitting shrieks. Our instructor, Kay, had the tiny tots (about four, including Apple and Adagio) do a simple exercise or two, and that went okay. But it was hard to feel our little boy was shining.
Compounding my tension was the fact that Kay had just attended a weekend training workshop, during which she apparently learned that CCI is changing the puppy-training protocol. Instead of teaching pups the way Steve and I learned when we started 13 years ago, the organization has adopted the concept of using the word “Yes” as a “marker.” Kay explained it a bit, but a) we arrived late and b) Adagio was shrieking in my ear. She gave us a handout that details a nine-step progression from initially eliciting desired behaviors (and exclaiming “Yes!” every time you see it) to eventually getting the dogs to perform all the commands with verbal commands only (no body movements or food rewards).
This will probably turn out to be just fine, but it will require significant training for all of us. First order of business: get Adagio’s attention when he is not yowling.
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.