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!