Zooming to puppy class

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Eight weeks have passed since the last time Dilly and Steve and I have been to a CCI puppy class. Where has the time gone? (Oh yeah. I remember. We’ve ALL been kenneled.)

Steve and I have been doing our best to continue training Dilly during this challenging interlude. We’ve been walking him more than we normally do, and Steve takes him out for a separate training session most afternoons. Still, we’ve keenly missed the human interaction with our fellow puppy-raisers (and instructor). Without the twice-monthly reminders of what we should be working on, I suspect we may have lost some of our training edge. So with some trepidation, I signed up for Dilly and me to participate in an online Basic class that we attended yesterday.

Organized by one of the local puppy-raisers, it cost $10 to take part in the session (unlike our normal classes, for which we never pay). It was taught by a contract trainer named Chelsea Calabria. A few minutes before 5:30, I logged in and joined a group that included Chelsea and six other puppy-raisers (plus me but not Steve; he was working on dinner).

Earlier Chelsea had sent out an agenda, and we followed it closely. We took turns with each puppy-raiser having her dog walk over an unfamiliar surface (that Chelsea had asked us in advance to have available.) For Dilly, I used a large piece of cardboard, and it surprised me to see him shy away from it at first. But after a try or two, he was padding over it competently and sitting on it to receive a treat.

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This puppy-raiser practiced with bubble wrap. 

Later, we each practiced having our dogs walk past kibble scattered on the floor to get to their beds, then we put in some time showing off (and getting tips for improving) our prowess with the Heel command. Chelsea finished off with some advice for us to practice using the Under command during some meals, just as we would if we could go out to a restaurant. Which of course no one can do at the moment.

For me, this was all nowhere near as much fun as a flesh-and-blood puppy class. There’s a bloodless (if virus-less) quality to doing these exercises in front of a computer screen, an  inability to comment and get quick subtle feedback from several people at once. At the same time, going over the material did make me think about things I hadn’t considered in some time. So it certainly didn’t feel like a waste of time.

From Dilly’s perspective, I’m sure it was way more boring still. The images on my computer screen may have looked like dogs to me but not him. They certainly didn’t smell like dogs or offer what some folks think is the most valuable part of the real-life classes — practice at ignoring all the fascinating distractions.

Still he got to work on things he hasn’t done in a while. Not a bad use of a sleepy hour at the end of an all-too-quiet afternoon.

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Really? This is nothing like the real thing. 

 

Is Dilly a star pupil?

The other night we introduced Dilly to good friends who just returned to San Diego after some extensive travels. They seemed impressed by Dilly’s ability to Sit and Speak and Shake and respond to other commands. When I mentioned we would be going to puppy class Monday night, one of them asked me in an email, “Is Dilly a star pupil?” she wrote. “Do you feel he is ahead of where other of your puppies have been at five months?”

I pondered that question throughout the class yesterday evening, and what came to me is: it’s too hard to compare. Only four puppies participated in our session last night. One of them, Frida, is about Dilly’s age. But she broke her leg in a freak accident several weeks ago. She’s healed now, but she missed some training when she was healing, so it’s not fair to measure her performance against Dilly’s (except to note that she seems way more obsessed with toys than he is.)

The other two classmates were little ones, Wish and Chessie, both of whom must be about two months younger than Dilly. He’s thus more accomplished than them. But I can’t conclude he’s smarter. He’s had two more months to work on everything.

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He was paying attention beautifully at this particular moment.

Steve and I find from one week to another that our dogs are more or less obedient. They go through developmental phases that change with disconcerting speed. Just a day or so ago, Dilly suddenly seemed to realize that when he’s outside and we call, “Here!” he can choose NOT to streak to us (and get a treat). If he happens to have a fallen hibiscus blossom in his mouth, he can prance AWAY from us; run in the opposite direction! Try to make US run after HIM to try and pry it from his jaws! (This is such a fun game!)

How long he’ll keep this up before returning to his instantly recallable former self we have no way of knowing. Could be tomorrow. Could be in six months. When I go further to try to compare Dilly’s overall intelligence level to all the other CCI puppies we’ve raised… it makes my head spin.

What I can say is that he seems at least as smart as them. In last night’s session, he blew the Wait command on the first try, but then he did executed it nicely. If he’d ignored our orders to come Here! out in the yard, he responded to them with alacrity in class. Our instructor, Kay, has a wondrous collection of dazzling dog toys, and she used several last night to command the participants’ attention.

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This duck waddles along while emitting a wacky tune. Dilly seemed to find the sight of it even more stunning than the lovely young girl dog next to him. But both he and Wish just sat and stared.

Before class, Steve and I realized this would be Dilly’s final session of “puppy kindergarten.” He’ll be six months old in just 9 more days, and then it will be time to switch to the Basic instructional group. We chatted on the way home about how that would be a nice change of pace.

But this morning I got an email from the local puppy program manager announcing that “in an abundance of caution,” CCI is suspending puppy-raising classes until concerns about the COVID-19 virus have died down. Hopefully, that will be sooner rather than later. In the meantime, we’ll have to work on our lessons on our own.

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.

 

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.

Missing class

DSC00218 2.jpgAdagio’s incision from his recent surgery has fully, beautifully healed, but his digestive system was disrupted last weekend,  so we decided to skip the puppy “social” held out in Santee last Saturday, just in case his gut problems were contagious. Happily, he’s back to normal after being dosed with Pro-Pectalin, the pills recommended by CCI that are a mixture of doggy probiotics and clay (kaolin). They stopped him up nicely.

But I feel sorry about all the confinement he’s had to endure recently. There was no puppy class scheduled for this past Monday night, and to my astonishment, I missed it! Although many of the classes have been tedious, over the years, they’ve gotten markedly more fun and interesting since Kay Moore became our regular instructor. Kay likes to shake things up. For our class 10 days ago, although the day had been sweltering, she goaded us all into going for a little outing.

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That’s Kay, second from the left.

We usually work outside in the parking lot for at least a part of every class. But on this occasion, we strolled for a few blocks through the residential neighborhood adjoining the building where the class meets (on Aero Drive, across from Montgomery Field).

We were able to practice several CCI commands along the way. There were interesting things to go Up on, for example:

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A utility box (Adagio was a little nervous, but he did it.)
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An unfinished property wall

At an intersection, we had the dogs Sit on the bumpy surface of the wheelchair access ramp.

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Odd, Adagio thought. But not intolerable.

Back in the parking lot, we practiced having all the dogs respond to “Here” commands from handlers other than their regular people. It was all entertaining, and the time sped by.

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Kay brought Levi, the adorable young Golden she’s currently raising. He was pretty distracting — to all the humans at least!

A pack of puppies walk into a mall…

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.

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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….

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… and trooped up and down the aisles.

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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.

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Outside again, we practiced walking next to shopping carts, and Steve even introduced Adagio to the “Under” command.

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He did it nicely.

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.

Car fun

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!)

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Puppy… purgatory?

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Adagio (forefront) and his sister, Apple

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…

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…as when visiting his sister Apple Sunday afternoon….

…he soon transitions into a calmer state.

 

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I think they call this posture a sploot.
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He adores cozying up to Tucker, when he can get away with it.
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But when not, he finds something else to cuddle with.

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.

Puppy class — yes!

011618 first puppy classI 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.

 

A higher (energy) class

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Our new goal: that rapt gaze

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.

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