07 December 2011

Good-bye Blue Aroo

Blue Aroo came into our lives on 10 June 2009 and passed away on 2 December 2011. He was a sweet and sparky dog - truly one of a kind. I didn't think any dog other than Buddy could become so completely a part of my heart. Blue amazed me with both his quiet gentleness and his joie de vivre.

I like to imagine that, now that he is no longer tethered to Earth, Blue is a comet racing across the sky, his wild blue eyes and goofy smile shining as his body makes an arc past stars and planets.

31 October 2011

Quick post with links - Dragonflies Can "Literally" Be Scared to Death

LiveScience is amazing — follow them for great science stories!

Here's one that caught my eye today: "Dragonflies are Literally Scared to Death of Fish." It picks up on science presented in the November 2011 issue of the journal Ecology: "The deadly effects of 'nonlethal' predators."

Both are drawn from a press release from the University of Toronto as well as an article on Futurity.org with a beautiful (stock) photo of a dragonfly.

I am particularly interested in a line from the Futurity.org article, "The findings could apply to all organisms facing any amount of stress — the experiment could be used as a model for future studies on the lethal effects of stress."

Mostly, this study leaped to my attention because it ties into my theme for this blog, as noted in my first post, "... it also relates to the conflicts inside a person, between fear and beauty, ignorance and acceptance."

This post is a dash-off in between doing several chores & as promised, it's short. I'll come back to expand on the topic soon.

05 October 2011

Raising a Puppy - Successes!

Just a quick post. Things are going great with Gem! Amazing! We've been going to class out at Dog Days Training Center in Berthoud, and Gemmie's going to be boarding out there again while I am in Minneapolis at my company's annual meeting. I'm looking forward to seeing what else he can learn.

For now: No biting when we're walking! The corrective collar (called a "good dog collar" although I have nicknamed it the "bad dog collar") has really made a difference, as had the training I have received. I know how to catch Gem at the beginning of negative behavior and "nip it in the bud" rather than react once he's in full "red zone" (well, maybe "orange zone" is a better description) mode.

Gem and I are developing a much healthier relationship. I no longer feel afraid and out of control. He gets to feel successful often and consistently disciplined. We're establishing a pattern and a routine, and we're going on longer walks to new places because I have the confidence that I can handle whatever comes up. We're trusting each other, and enjoying each other.

Next on the list: Getting him to GIVE me whatever he has in his mouth the first time I ask for it. His favorite, big ticket item: plastic bags. Oh, and my nightgown...

08 September 2011

Raising a Puppy - Boarding School

    You can't always do things on your own. Even if you want to. Even if you think you can because you've done it before. And when it comes to raising a puppy, there is no such thing as "done it before." No puppy is alike—not even the same breed of puppy, not even the same litter of puppies. Gem is not going to be like Buddy, though he does show some Buddy-like traits. Gem is Gem, which equals quite a handful. Even after neutering, Gem continued to jump up on me, bite me hard enough to leave large bruises (he's now 50 pounds at 6-months old) and rip my clothes. I'm having some back problems that may turn out to be somewhat debilitating (I hate that word, but couldn't think of a better one). Rather than cry and be scared of my dog, I talked to my vet. The vet, Nancy Bureau, recommended Laurie Buffington of Dog Days Training Center in Berthoud, Colorado. This is a board-and-train operation—kind of like boarding school, but for dogs.

Husband Bear and I drove out there last Saturday and met with Buffington and some of the dogs "on staff" as well as a couple in training. Gemmie clearly showed his ability to get revved up and his inability to calm down. He likes to dominate other dogs and won't back down when "the play" gets too rough. Thus, the phone call yesterday: Gemmie had started to play with a [Boston] bull-terrier and when the terrier warned him off, he didn't listen—I bet he didn't even understand the cue. He jumped right back in and the terrier bit him hard, leaving puncture wounds on his front leg. The trainer moved in to stop the fight, and so Gem bit her (not on purpose, but just because he was operating blindly at that point).

Both are fine (if you discount the fact that Gemmie has to wear a "cone of shame" for a few days), and Gem seems just as happy and playful as ever.

What we are trying to do by having Gem board with an expert trainer is to have her see him for who he is ("in living color") in different circumstances so that she can develop a training program for us. Already she has told us she thinks Gem is "too much dog" for me and she's worried he needs more of a firm hand and consistent discipline than I can provide.

No more TREATS for everything [no treats as bribes]. She says (and I believe her) that Gem is such a smart guy that he has figured out how to manipulate me into giving him a reward. He's not learning to do the behavior because I want him to do the behavior; he's learning it to get what he wants (treats). Ouch. Not what I intended, but clear in retrospect.

I'm going to have to get Gem to do what I want by expecting him to do so, by setting him up to succeed in ways that don't require treating. I'm also getting rid of the play-pen (he's about out-grown it anyway, and Buffington says it gives him too much freedom) and getting him a larger crate. When he's being out of control, he goes in the crate. At night, he sleeps in the crate.

He's not a cuddle bug like Buddy was. He gets different messages from snuggling on the couch or sleeping in the bedroom than Buddy did. He learns he is "top dog"—maybe even more top dog than we humans.

When we got Blue Aroo, we knew that huskies would push boundaries and try to take over as alpha. We decided we would never allow Blue to get on the bed or the couch or to precede us through a doorway. Blue has never challenged our "alpha" roles; he has settled right in as "beta."

So, why did we not do this with Gem? Oh, because he's a golden retriever! A sweet, cuddly, dependable, gentle golden retriever!  The buzzer goes off here: WRONG answer!  Many golden retrievers these days are coming out more assertive/aggressive than in the past. People trying to breed for gentleness are ending up with  not-so-gentle alpha ["high drive"] dogs [see this "Retrieverman's Weblog" post for example]. Gem comes from a show/hunting line; I should have known he would have a strong play/work drive with dominance issues, but I let the wool get pulled over my eyes when I met his mom: so sweet and calm... I also thought since the breeder did have some therapy dogs in her lines of goldens, Gem might pick up those qualities like Buddy had. Knowing what I know now... if I had it do over again, I might have looked elsewhere for a pup. [Not that it was AT ALL the breeder's fault — but read this article by ABC Golden Retrievers on "How to Choose a Reputable Breeder."]

Where does that leave Gem? Well, still at the boarding school until next week, when we meet with Laurie Buffington and get schooled ourselves, with lots of homework. Gem will come home with us and we'll do our best to "step up" and be the dog "guardians" or owners or masters or whatever you want to call it that he needs.

And I'll keep you posted.

[[Note: Edits added in brackets and strike-throughs 9 Sept.]]

13 August 2011

Raising a Puppy - 5 months old!

We made it! Gem is now 5 months old, has almost all his adult teeth, and has stopped biting and tearing my clothes (for the most part). There's a mutual trust growing between us, and I'm enjoying his company in a way that I couldn't have imagined a month ago.

I've been off blogging for a bit because of severe back and leg pain. Playing with Gem, chasing him around in the grass, and him jumping up at me exacerbated a problem I didn't know I had: a cyst on the left facet joint of my spinal vertebra at the L4-L5 region (lower back). The cyst is 6 mm and is causing, in doctor terms, "mass effect" and "moderate to several spinal canal narrowing." Basically, it's a big ole pea-sized growth that's pressing on the nerves in that area of the spinal cord. And yes, it is very painful. The doctors always have you do the pain scale, 1 to 10, with 10 being passing out from the pain... well, mine's been moving around from a 4 to an 8 but mostly a 7 to 8 with the pain at some points just making me bawl like a child. (Addendum: Here's what a normal lumbar MRI looks like: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neckandback/5260905034/.)

But, the good news is, this has helped me figure out how to raise Gem without trying to get him exhausted every day. I think that's part of why he was biting me so much. And I've had to seek out help -- after three tries, I have found the right doggie daycare for him, and I have promise from the neighbor to teach him to play proper fetch (chasing a ball across a field and bringing it back -- not just the simple toss of a toy in the living room).

Blue, our older husky mix, has finally decided the puppy is OK to be around now. Truly, there has been some kind of "aura change" -- Gem has a more peaceful persona. This doesn't mean calm, exactly... he is still very puppy-ish and loves to jump and play and bite Blue's tail.

Next Friday, I'll be having a "procedure" done on my back -- basically, the doctor will stick a big needle into the cyst, pull out any liquid, and then poke lots of holes in the cyst to see if it will collapse on itself. Then, she'll give me a steroid injection (aka lumbar epidural). The hope of being without pain after almost three months is fantastic! It has really raised my spirits.

So back to Gem... The three doggie daycare facilities I looked at were Dog City, Camp Bow Wow, and Arapahoe Animal Hospital Daycare.

Dog City, I hear, is under new management. Their Web site looks great - I thought, wow, this is the one! I called and set up a tour. When I got there, the lobby was empty; in a minute, someone came to the front desk but stopped me mid-sentence when she realized the puppies in the next room (who had otherwise been unsupervised) had made a poop mess that needed to be cleaned up. So, I waited. Five minutes, and then she was on the phone. Five more minutes. Finally, I just gave up and walked out. I was still OK with the place -- you know, sometimes people are just really busy. But, as I was walking out of the lobby and back to my car, I unknowingly stepped in a pile of dog poo, and didn't realize it until I was part way home -- that I had now gotten poo all over the floor of the driver's area. That capped it ... a place that is that poorly kept can't be good for your dog.

Next, Camp Bow Wow. I had hired a "personal trainer" for Gem, to help me out with his aggressive biting. Gigi Moss was recommended to me by my vet (Nancy Bureau at Alpine Hospital for Animals). Gigi was very helpful, and when I learned she taught her obedience classes at Camp Bow Wow, I figured it would be a good place for Gem. It is a very large, clean facility, with indoor and outdoor play areas, and staff on hand to keep a good eye on the dogs. And, of course, Camp Bow Wow offers the "camper cam," whereby folks can keep an eye on their dogs via the Web. That's good and bad -- the first time I watched, I was worried about Gem because he seemed to be playing too rough and jumping up and nipping the staff person. I called and told them they could give him time outs, and then he disappeared off camera -- off all the cameras. But the people there do a pretty good job, and eventually Gem's behavior improved. Yet, Gem was placed with the small dogs in a small fenced-off portion of a larger warehouse -- rarely were there any other puppies there -- so I don't think he was releasing the energy he needed to release, and when he came home, he seemed more agitated. (Addendum: The nice thing about Camp Bow Wow, though, is that advanced reservations are not required; that means I can run Gem in there anytime during the week if I need to.)

So, I had a look at Arapahoe Animal Hospital's daycare facility. I don't use this vet, but my aunt does, and before her, my grandmother (and I when I was a teenager and in college). The place has a good reputation, and the wife of one of the vets is a highly regarded breeder of champion golden retrievers (Becky Hayes, Redog Golden Retrievers).

At AAH's daycare, the dogs are mostly outdoors in play areas shaded by trees, with mini pup pools, dirt, some grass, and some faux grass. It seems lots of puppies go there -- Gem often has two or three other dogs his age to play with, plus some older dogs. When he comes home, he is usually very dirty and wet, but, also pretty tired. He goes right to sleep, so I can get on with my day (aka, go back to work; he's doing half days right now).

Daycare at AAH has two more advantages: One, they're open seven days a week, with folks on staff every day, and even a vet available for emergencies. Two: They cost less than the other doggie daycare facilities.

Daycare and boarding is going to become very helpful to me next week, when I have the minor surgery/shot/whatever you want to call it. I'm not sure we'll actually board Gem, but it's nice to have it as a possibility.

I want to say a couple more things about what has worked for us. In my third post in this series, I talked about getting Gem a crate and a playpen. I just have to say -- the playpen has been the best thing ever. He sleeps in there now, with plenty of space to move around and to have a bowl of water, his bed, and bare tile floor (which is what be prefers). It's right in front of our sliding glass doors, so he has natural light and can look outside if he's awake. And if I want, I can go in there and sit with him.

Another thing: He's house-trained now, so we can have him wandering about with us when we are able to keep an eye on him. It's fun just sitting in the living room playing fetch, or hiding around the corner and having him come racing down the stairs to find me.

 So, at 5 months, Gem has become a pleasure, though still a scamp and sometimes a pain. But mostly, lovey and fun to play with. As I've said before: It does get better!

29 June 2011

Raising a Puppy - Ticket for Dog at Large

Neighbors Complain Because Dogs Having Too Much Fun

    Gem now has a criminal record — Today we received his first ticket for "dog at large." We were playing in our usual location when an animal control officer arrived. Lucky for our play group, only three of us were on-site at the time.

We were as pleasant as we could be with the officer, who was clearly "just doing her job" and treated us with respect and a sense of humor. There was no point in arguing — what we were doing was wrong — that is, if you go by the letter of the law.

In my opinion, allowing dogs to play in a fenced-in field that no one is using at 7:30 in the morning shouldn't be illegal. We dog "guardians" (Boulder uses this label, rather than "owner") ensure the field is left in pristine condition; we keep it cleaner than do the young little league players and their families. A single-use field paid for and maintained by the city (but note the several sponsor banners that help pay for the various leagues to play) is rather a waste of resources.

But, I get it. If lots of dogs came, if it were truly allowed to be a dog park, it would start looking ragged, as do most of the dog parks in the area.

What bothers me is that the animal control officer advised us that "we have been getting a lot of complaints..." and "one person's dog, which was on a leash, was chomped on by a dog off-leash in this field." I'd like to know who was doing the complaining and where in relation to the field they live. This isn't so I can be vindictive or retaliate in some way. I just would like to be able to wrap my head around exactly what was the problem. If we were making too much noise, that's something I would understand. The field seems far enough away from residences that this shouldn't be a problem, but I remember working night shift and trying to get to sleep in the early morning. It's difficult.

I've never seen dogs get in a fight in the field and never heard about a dog getting bitten. And I've never seen a dog ON leash in the field, so I'm not sure how the leashed dog could have been attacked by some unnamed vicious dog during our morning play sessions. And really, that doesn't matter. Clearly, someone was upset by something that happened, but didn't take the time to talk to people about it — or, fabricated the story to justify making the complaint.

I wonder if the complaint was made just based on the fact that we were violating an ordinance, regardless of the circumstances. Some people get so caught up in rules that they forget common courtesy. I know it can create anxiety and feel risky to talk to people about their dogs, but why not give it a try rather than "calling the cops" as the first course of action?

I'd love to find some stats to back this up (research project?): It seems to me that folks who complain about dogs have the highest incidence of requested anonymity. People like to judge and complain but not confront and explain. Especially in Boulder.

Gem is about to turn 4 months old and get the last of his puppy shots. Once he gets those, he'll be free to go to the real dog parks around the city. I'll miss the group of dogs we've made friends with, but I'm sure we'll find new friends. It's kind of ironic though, that in a city like Boulder that encourages alternative transportation and local parks, we'll have to drive at least 4 miles round trip just to go where it's legal to have a dog off-leash.

26 June 2011

Raising a Puppy - Week 8+

With a little help from my friends...
    I've been off writing a bit because of back and hip pain — doc says I have sciatica, most likely caused by, say, about 2 months of chasing a little puppy around. I'm trying to take it a little easier, and am also getting some help from my friends — our morning play group, my friend Karina stepping in to "babysit," and advice from a local dog trainer.

First, the morning play group: Here we have Gem, Misha, Ellie, and Kavik, the four regulars at our neighborhood pre-workday play group. The oldest dog is about three, I think, and of course, Gem is the youngest (he was born 7 March 2011, so he's over 3 1/2 months old now). These guys play really well together, but usually pair off Misha with Ellie and Gem with Kavik.

Kavik and Gem seem to have a special bond — I think it has something to do with the fact that Kavik is such a nice dog and Gem has a fascination for pulling on his incredibly fluffy white fur.

They have a great time wrestling and running and generally wearing each other out.

Gem especially likes to pull on Kavik's tail, and sometimes I wonder at the big dog's patience.

Second: My friend Karina loves dogs — we met while walking our golden retrievers several years ago. Since then, both our big guys have passed on, so now Karina has stepped in as "Auntie." Yesterday was Bear's and my 1st anniversary (we got married in Vancouver last year), so Karina helped us out by taking care of Gem. Everyone had a good time and I learned I need to stop worrying so much about whether Gem will be OK and whether he might be too rough... I'm not the "be all and end all" for Gem.

I was worried about leaving Gem alone with Karina because he has been biting — hard. I have some rather impressive bruises to prove it, and lots of torn clothing. I've been quite exasperated with this behavior, so I called in a specialist: Gigi Moss of Boulder, recommended by my vet and by word of mouth. Gigi came out to my house today and gave me some great advice. One: I do not need to try to assume an "alpha" role with Gem and fight with him physically. Prying things from his mouth and grabbing him by the scruff of his neck, or "clocking him one" as his breeder advised (which I did not do) will only serve to intensify his out-of-control feelings/behavior. If he's biting and pulling, "biting" and pulling back will not elicit the desired response, which is to get him to let go, to stop biting. He has to be "interrupted" — given something else he'd rather have in his mouth (and accompany that by saying "get it" or some other command that he will begin to associate with the redirect). I'll have to start carrying an arsenal of sticks and treats and toys — things that I know will catch his attention.

Gigi also explained that adult dogs will not discipline a puppy with force. At this age, they won't force him down or swat him or otherwise punish him. A well-balanced adult dog that has had enough of a puppy may say so with a growl, but the greater "punishment" is that it will simply get up and walk away.

The worst (and best) thing you can do to an attention-seeking puppy is to deny it attention! Pulling and yelling and pushing and begging and getting all wound up works great if you want the puppy to pull, bark, push, beg, and get more wound up. Of course, when you're out on a walk, you can't simply drop the leash and leave your pup, but you can redirect the behavior and, if nothing else, tie the leash to a tree and turn your back for a minute.

Caveat: I'm writing quickly and putting what I gathered from Gigi today in my own words, so any factual errors or misstatements are all mine. Gigi had more hints that I'll take more time to put into action and cover here in greater detail. Gem, Bear, and I will be meeting with her again in a couple of weeks to check in and learn some other skills.

The best thing about working with a trainer: Having another human to talk to. Reading is great; taking your dog to socialization classes is great — but sometimes you need the one-on-one discussion time to reinforce what you know, to ask questions, and to develop the specific skills you need to nurture a healthy, mutually enjoyable relationship with your pup.

Today I have a true sense of a bright future for me and Gem.

13 June 2011

Raising a Puppy - Week 6 addendum

Just when you think you have everything right...

I'm coming to learn that raising a puppy is sometimes about taking two steps forward and one step back. Today was one of those days when I felt like we were sliding backward. Little pup has been nippy all day, and I have the torn shorts to prove it. Holding him down until he takes a deep breath is getting harder, because he's getting bigger and stronger. So, I have to come up with an alternate plan. That requires that I remember everything I have in my arsenal. One easy tool that's easy to forget when I have a puppy jumping on me: While he has no idea what "no" and "stop!" mean, he will sit on command. He will high-five and go down all the way. Next time he becomes a whirling dervish or a little Tasmanian devil, I will try using my commands. Right now I'm not feeling very confident, but we'll see. I have also been trying to redirect his attention to a toy or a stick, but currently this approach only has about a 25% success rate.

Speaking of confidence (or lack thereof): I'm reading Cesar Millan's book, Cesar's Way, right now. I've also watched several seasons of his television show, "The Dog Whisperer." Comparing how I'm doing with what Cesar says leaves me feeling very pale to the task. Every interaction I have with Gem I'm thinking, "Calm-assertive energy; I have to have calm-assertive energy." Then I'm thinking, "But I'm freakin' frustrated! How can I have calm-assertive energy when I'm so frustrated?" Can you be frustrated and calm-assertive? I'm working on it. I'll let you know.

And yes, Cesar Millan readers, I am remembering his other mantra: "Exercise, discipline, and affection, in that order." This puppy gets up to an hour of play and walk time in the morning and up to two hours of play and walk time in the evening, along with a midday break with brushing or exercise depending on his energy level. Sometimes I wonder if I'm giving him too much exercise. Discipline: When I get bored with exercise alone, we work on training. Until those things are done, it's actually difficult to give the puppy affection because his energy level is too high. That doesn't mean I don't encourage him and pat him when he does things right — especially when we retrieves the toy we are playing with. Affection and play and exercise kind of go hand in hand, but foremost is play and exercise.

If you read my last post, you'll know that one thing I am not doing according to the Cesar Millan plan is waiting to feed the puppy until after he has had some exercise. I know when Gem grows up, I will have to feed him after exercise in order to avoid bloat (a highly dangerous and often fatal condition that you can learn more about by following the link), but for now, it's better to feed him first.

These ups and downs are natural, but that doesn't mean they're easy. It's hard on everyone in the household, and that in turn adds to the stress. But when I find myself questioning whether getting this puppy was a bad idea, I realize I wouldn't want to be doing anything else. I would just rather I were doing it better — and that Gem would be, well, more of a gem and less of a fire brand. To think I almost named him Sparky...

Raising a Puppy - Week 6

It does get better... It does get better...

But how do you get to "better"? Lots of patience, energy, time, and consistency. And — now this sounds easy, but it's not always — you've got to pay attention. Just as much as you need the puppy to pay attention to you, you've got to pay attention to it.

I'm learning Gem's "moods" and mannerisms and how to interpret them. So far, I'm pretty clear on how he acts when he needs to "go to the bathroom" (starts nosing around the living room) so that we haven't had an accident in the house for a couple of weeks.

That down, I now need to pay attention to how tired he is. A tired puppy is a lot like a tired toddler — cranky and downright ornery. Gem snaps and jumps and even sometimes growls and bites when he's tired. My goal is to put him down for the night or for a nap before that happens, but sometimes I'm stuck outside with him trying to figure out how to get him back to the house. For now, carrying him is OK, but I'd rather lure him in with some tasty treats (make him follow his nose, as Cesar Millan recommends). Lesson: Always carry a handful of tiny but attractive puppy treats [list of favorites to come].

Also very important: Is he hungry? Have you ever noticed a young pup jumping up on its canine mom, grabbing her fur, and generally being a nuisance when it wants to nurse? Translate that to 3-mo-old puppy behavior and you have torn clothing and a frustrated human. I'm making it a priority to see that Gem has eaten a proper amount of breakfast or dinner before we head out on a walk. This makes life a lot nicer and easier for both of us.

What do I mean by "a proper amount"? Well, Gem sort of does what I call "drive-by eating" — he'll grab some food and then move on to play or go outside or fall back asleep. I have to set the bowl back in front of him (after making him sit-stay); usually, he eats all or almost all the food on the second go. Regarding quantity: I give him about one and a quarter cups of kibble at each meal (incl. lunch, which he'll get for another month or so), with some white rice and either a dollop of plain Greek yogurt or a tablespoon of canned puppy food on top to get him interested. He doesn't always eat all the food, but sometimes he licks the bowl clean (at which point I give him a little more). It's important for his growth and my peace of mind to see to it that he does eat a reasonable amount. When he gets older, I am sure I will have the opposite problem...

The good stuff: Gem is called "well-adjusted" in his puppy socialization class. He can go through the little agility tunnels all by himself (such a good boy!), and he learned to go up and down the stairs with almost no fear and very few treats. Gem is intrepid: He goes boldly forward into, say, McGuckins (a Boulder hardware store), and walks about calmly, but with keen interest in all the smells. He does not jump on people who want to pet him, nor does he shy away; he approaches with tail wagging. Gem is getting used to all kinds of activity: We have bikers, skateboarders, runners, and children going by our place all the time. Dogs and their owners pass by, and Gem will sit calmly and watch, or go say hi if I tell him he can. The best of the good stuff: I can pet him and brush him and even trim his nails while he chews quietly on a rawhide or even just lies back in the grass, gently nibbling it and stretching to show me his little tummy.

07 June 2011

Raising a Puppy - Week 5

This has been a very active week. I've been working on keeping Gem's mind challenged and his body ... exhausted ... OK, well not exhausted, but busy enough that when it's time to sleep, he SLEEPS. And yes! We have done it - he has slept through the night five out of the last 7 nights.

On a more basic level, Gem's new sleep pattern involves a learning curve on my part and a growth curve on his: (1) I learned that it's best not to give the puppy anything to eat or drink after about 7 p.m. so that he is more likely not to need to go out for several hours; (2) according to the vet, puppies Gem's age (3 months now!) can only go for about three to four hours at night before needing to pee, but Gem's little body seems to be getting used to things; he's down and out around 9 p.m. and of late has not been getting us up until about 5:30 or 6 a.m. (except this morning, of course).

Another reason for this is psychological: Gem overnights in his playpen now, with more room to stretch out so he is less likely to "object" when he tries to move around. This is one mobile puppy; when he's "sleeping" he often gets up and moves around, making about a 360 in his playpen over the course of a couple of hours.

Gem still remains in his crate when I am at work; it's safer for him and for the house (he may someday figure out how to jump out of the playpen). I make sure he gets out for a walk midday and then again as soon as I get home.

Firsts this week: Gem and I got to jump in the creek and play around this weekend because it has been so much warmer lately. Also, Gem enjoys "helping" me water the plants on the deck and then splashing around a bit in his wading pool, which until this point we have kept dry. The vet warned me that until he is a little older, Gem cannot be left alone in his little pool even with just a couple of inches of water. Puppies don't have the best memories... sometimes they just forget what they're doing and fall asleep. The vet also noted that he should not go swimming until (A) he has had all his shots and (B) he can be trusted to not fall asleep or otherwise lose his swimming concentration.

Another first (of the not-so-good kind): Gem is starting to growl when we try to take an especially tasty chew-treat out of his mouth. This cannot be tolerated! I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and pried the treat from his mouth. Now, whenever he gets a treat, I "practice" taking it away from him, then giving it back, and taking it away, so he gets used to the idea that giving up something isn't so bad. As well, while he is eating, I put my hand in his bowl, take the bowl away, and so forth, so it is crystal clear who controls his food.

Overall, little Gem has grown much sweeter. I can snuggle and kiss him (after exercise & discipline/training of course) a lot more, and no worries about being bitten. Oh the scent of fluffy puppy fur!

28 May 2011

Raising a Puppy - Week 4

Quite a week it has been. So many ups and downs, but by the end of the week, more up than down.
      Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, Gemmie seemed to escalate from "puppy play-biting" up to aggressive, hard biting. I stopped letting passersby pet him, and worried that with Gem I'd bit off more than I could chew.
      I don't bruise easily, so the two big bruises Gem left on my arm on Monday illustrate what to me was an unheard-of power for such a little pup. On Tuesday, I was to the point of sending him back to the breeder for (1) a weekend off and (2) remedial training/socialization with his sister and mother and the other goldens there.
      But sending him away didn't feel right, so my husband, Bear, and I decided to redouble our efforts. We'd tried the "yipping" and "growling" suggested by books, Websites, and by the vet, but that did not cause Gem to stop or to loosen his grip. So, we moved to a stronger method, one used by Cesar Millan on his show, The Dog Whisperer. As soon as Gem started to bite one of us, we would yell "no" and then push him down to the ground, holding him on his side until he stopped struggling and let out a breath of relaxation.
      It's hard, and I bet it looks scary and mean. But the puppy is not being hurt and, more importantly, neither is the human. I say more important, because in the long run, a puppy's well-being is measured by how well he interacts with others — especially other dogs and humans. An aggressive, undisciplined dog is an unhappy dog. Such behavior would not be tolerated in a pack, and fitting into the pack (family, neighborhood) is of great importance for a well-balanced dog.
      And it works! Gem has not bitten me since Wednesday morning — that is, he has not bitten me for long! He is seemingly 10 times more gentle now than he was a week ago. I can caress his face and not fear being bitten. In fact, he seems to be enjoying the softer attention much more now.
      As anyone raising a puppy knows, this fight isn't over. It will require consistent, calm discipline. But it's empowering to both human and dog to know it is something that can be handled and overcome.
      Speaking of empowering to the human — last night I learned something about myself and about Gem that my sleep-deprived over-worrying was not letting me see. Gem is a good dog. I am a good trainer. We work well together.
      We went to our first puppy socialization class at the local humane society. Gem was the biggest pup there and I was worried he'd be overbearing and aggressive. Not so. He was gentle and calm and he was the first pup to display the classic play bow. It was interesting to note that other folks in the class did not know what that meant. 
      What made me most proud of Gem, though, was when the trainer asked to use him to help the more shy pups. The class was made up of two very small corgis (wow are they cute; they look like little long-eared guinea pigs!) and two under-socialized humane society adoptees. First, the trainer separated the larger adoptees from the very shy corgis, then had Gem lie down and stay while the corgis came up to him. They were praised whenever they came near, and they were able to learn that this big dog with the strange waiving appendage (when had they seen a tail before?) was not a threat and that they were safe. A great confidence builder. 
      After a while, Gem was moved to the other side of the room with the larger pups. He initiated play and they had a good time. One of the pups, Lucy, was having a harder time, because she was afraid of humans as well. So, while Gem played, I enticed Lucy to me with treats until she turned and allowed me to pet her bottom. Soon, she'll be more relaxed around everyone.
      Gem is promoted to the 12- to 18-week-old puppy group next week, and so is Lucy and the other bigger pup. I'm looking forward to seeing them get to know each other more and having Gem help work out their "issues" (hah! and mine!). Also, it will be nice to have Gem be around a larger bunch of pups to see how it is for him to be the small one.
      Another cool thing: They had a little tunnel in the training room, and I got Gem to go through it on the first try! I'm thinking for sure this guy and I will really enjoy agility training when the time comes.
      And one last benefit — nothing's better after a long day than a tired puppy...

21 May 2011

Repost - Poem to A Friend

Life doesn't need to come all at once.
There is no disappointment in not achieving things
Exactly as planned
As you think it is supposed to be.
Sometimes life's problems come from our own striving
Our own imagining of how it should go
Rather than stepping back
Being quiet
Accepting what IS at this moment
What is good in this moment
Even if it is but the smallest detail.
It's hard when the rush of life comes at you like a stormy sea
To stop and see it all as continuity
Each drop linked to each drop
Even to the quiet and stillness of the deep.

I originally posted this on 26 December 2010, in prep for the New Year. Having just read it again, I thought it was pretty good, and something to focus on each day, so I'm posting it again. The picture was taken far up the Skagway River in Alaska.

Raising a Puppy - Week 3

Week three, but it seems like months. I love this little pup, but oh the work! Last night I was up at midnight and 4 a.m. to take him out; my husband was stuck with the 5:30 cries. The vet (Nancy Bureau at Alpine Hospital for Animals — Buddy's vet all his life) says that until Gem is 12 weeks old, he will need to go out at least twice per night. From 12 to 16 weeks, he'll only have to go out once per night. And I'm sure he will sleep; last night I had to carry a sleep-drugged puppy out into the dark. Then he went right back to sleep after peeing.
    In case I didn't mention it before, we are crate-training (Gem's is a Pet Gear collapsible crate). It's the best way to ensure that a dog is safe during the night and that he does not pee or poop inside the house. Dogs, even little puppies, will not soil their own little territories, unless left with no other choice after hours of neglect. Gem also has a "play pen," which I highly recommend. This is where he goes to wind down after a walk or after play — he tends to get bite-y when he's tired, and the playpen helps to keep me safe from some very painful nipping. It also helps him settle before I put him in his crate and head off to work.
    Speaking of nipping — all puppies "play bite," but for some, this can get out of control, especially when the pup is tired or hungry, and I have the bruises and tiny cuts to prove it (I don't think on a younger person the puppy would actually break the skin, but skin that grows more delicate as we age runs in my family). I asked the vet how to make Gem stop. Her advice: (1) put him down to sleep before he gets tired enough to bite; (2) make sure he has eaten his breakfast/lunch/dinner; and (3) correct him with loud yips and growls when he is biting, just like a big dog would. Sounds easy. But then she notes that a puppy his age will need to be corrected a hundred times or more before he gets it. It feels like I've already done that... but the idea is consistency — I can't let it pass even once. Glad I have nice neighbors who understand puppy training! This site has even more great information, with videos, of how to stop the puppy from biting.
    What else did I learn while at the vet? 
    To help the puppy want to be in his crate and/or playpen, give all treats there (unless you are training) and give no affection while and right after you remove him from the crate or playpen. 
    Food: Puppies can have two or three mini-carrots if they like them. Gem chomps them down — this meets his desire to chew (and a cool carrot can be soothing to a teething pup) and is healthy in moderation. Gem also likes frozen green beans; encouraging this will help later in life because most golden retrievers have a tendency to be very food oriented and to gain weight if not managed carefully.
    I also learned that I should feed Gem three times per day, as much as he will eat. Puppies tend to graze — they grab a few pieces of kibble, then go off to play, then come back, repeat, until they are full, or until five minutes have passed. Once five minutes have passed, the food bowl can be removed. I always throw a handful of kibble into his playpen or crate when he's going to spend some time there.
    Unfortunately, Gem is a hardcore dirt eater. Nothing better than soil, as far as he is concerned. Dr. Bureau recommends having something even tastier with me to "bribe" him with (cooked, cubed chicken works; I freeze it to make it a little harder to eat up) so that he lets go of the dirt and takes that instead. She does caution, however, that this will take up to 100 corrections before he stops the behavior.
    About places to go and ways to play: Dr. Bureau recommends no dog parks or places where dogs congregate outdoors until Gem is at least four months old. He can go to the pet store or the local hardware store — places that have been cleaned up after pet visits. And when we're out, Gem is allowed to play with big dogs, but no puppies I don't know, in case they have not been vaccinated yet. The exception is when he goes to socialization/play class at the local humane society, because they require health records before a puppy can join in.
    Finally, even though he is a golden retriever, born for swimming, he cannot yet go swimming. Dr. Bureau explained that puppies have a very short attention span and can drown. I could just picture Gem out in the water, paddling about, and then, distracted or sleepy, forgetting what he was doing and sinking like a rock. She says that really can happen.

    I got Gem a little swimming pool, but for now we're playing in it dry. The vet advises that just like a small child, Gem should not be left unsupervised in even two inches of water. But Gem seems to be having a great time in the empty pool, as you can see from his wild-eyed friskiness.
    Gem was born on 7 March 2011; he's now 11 weeks old. One more week, and I should be able to sleep for more than 3-4 hours at a time. Please, please, please let it be true!

15 May 2011

Raising a Puppy - Week 2.1

Some hours of the day, this is all I hope for... Gem to fall asleep. But I have learned something: Gem doesn't need to play so hard in order to fall asleep (case in point: too many toys in this picture). In fact, playing too hard makes it harder for him to wind down. When he gets fussy and toothy (boy, it hurts when he nips!), it means he's tired, but too tired to just lie down and rest. He needs my help - so now I have taken to giving him "time outs." It seems to be working.

I also just switched his food. Either the probiotic meds are taking effect (he had giardia) and his tummy feels better or the new food is somehow making him calmer. Tonight was the first night I could just sit with him without having to tug on a toy or hide my hands so he wouldn't bite them. 

I'll let you know, after I give it further consideration, and it seems like that really is what made the difference, what I changed his food from & to. It could be, too, that he is starting to settle in more. 

In any case, I am very much looking forward to our first "puppy socialization class" at the humane society on Friday.  And even though I trained Buddy up well and know a fair amount about dogs and training in general, I'm looking forward to getting in some puppy kindergarten classes. There's nothing like being with a group of folks who can bounce ideas off each other, create a positive learning environment for both pups and humans, and get advice they didn't even know they needed.

Until then... sweet dreams.

11 May 2011

Raising a Puppy - Week 2

It does get better. It does get better. It does get better... Slowly, over the course of the second week, the puppy stops smelling like spoiled milk and more like soft, sweet, fuzziness. And then he bites you...

Gem is one active guy - and no signs of fear! He meets other dogs head on (well, with the appropriate deference, more like side to the head on [What, don't you watch The Dog Whisperer? You'd understand what I mean if you did.]). He's very observant and is not troubled by new situations. In fact, my nickname for him is "Intrepid One." 

I've been taking lots of pictures and getting very little sleep. In fact, I should be sleeping now rather than writing this post. I can hardly wait until Gem sleeps through the night... Right now his little bladder is just too small to wait 8 hours, or even 6, or 5... oooppppppppssssssssss I just fell asleep......

Here are a few shots of the little monster, I mean, darling - depending on time of day - the earlier in the day, the sweeter he is; by bedtime, he's like a toddler, fighting sleep with every ounce of energy. He bites and fights but when I put him down in his crate, he whines for a bit and then is sound asleep.

This series of photos is titled "this guy never stops." Until he hits the wall, he doesn't. He has places to go, things to dig up, and balls to kill. Oh, and the occasional pot to stick his head in.