8 WEEKS TO 8 MONTHS

8 weeks

Leia just turned 8 months old, and it is amazing to think she has been with me for six months already. And what a six months it has been!

I’d never had a winter puppy before, so it was with some trepidation that I anticipated housebreaking.  Fortunately, for puppy raising, it turned out to be a mild winter which afforded lots of outdoor time for Leia to blow off steam.  Middle of the night outings actually were beautiful, peaceful, and invigorating. 

The first few weeks were fairly routine from a puppy stand-point, but then she came down with that nasty UTI which threw a monkey wrench into housebreaking.  It was exasperating and exhausting, but we finally got things under control two months later and housebreaking resumed. Keeping a puppy log helped me get a sense of Leia’s routine and foibles.

Enter Covid 19 . . .

Leia and I only attended one KPT session before the club cancelled all classes. The quarantine and social distancing created training and socialization challenges that I’d never experienced with my other dogs.  I had to get creative and think of ways to expose Leia to the world.  Fortunately, I had been able to get her out for about a month in her prime socialization period, but the benefits of group training classes were lost. 

Leia continues to have the inclination to rush towards people and jump on them, in spite of my rigorous attempts to impress upon her that it is not permitted. Again, I had to get creative, and a few of my neighbors kindly agreed to be guinea pigs. It became very apparent that Leia had trouble controlling her excitement when a person came into her orbit. She would be very vocal and lunge forward in an attempt to greet the person.  I’ve been working religiously with her to keep all four paws on the ground. Amazingly, once she makes contact with the person, the histrionics pass.  She settles quickly and is happy to sit quietly for petting. 

And then we had a war . . . it was waged fiercely, but the Zinnias finally triumphed.  Every other day I find a random trooper who has succumbed to occasional and weak attacks, but Leia has finally accepted the futility of continuing a full-scale battle.

Leia continues to exhibit kleptomania when given freedom in the house.  Even though she has improved greatly, she still thieves. I never know what object I am going to find in her mouth.  She still has a love affair with toilet paper; not only does she love the musical toilet paper roll, she LOVES Cottonelle!  It’s textured and very chewy.

Leia has exhibited the ability to problem solve.  She figured out how to move the heavy accordion gate which has confined all other dogs in my home.  I even braced the gate with a trunk and chair, and she figured that out! She maneuvers it to create an opening so she can escape upstairs. Once upstairs, she either steals my slippers or chooses a book in the library room. One day she grabbed the toilet plunger and toilet cleaning brushes. The day she jumped into the bathtub and chewed on a bar of soap was hysterical. Fortunately, she suffered no side effects from that – after all, it was sensitive-skin organic soap. . . (I ordered a new gate which, I hope, solves the problem once and for all.)

But she did suffer side effects from a chewing incident gone awry.  The bloodshot, swollen eye panicked me and resulted in a 2 a.m. trip to the emergency hospital CARES.  It was good I didn’t wait as internal pressure had elevated in her eye.  The vets were wonderful and immediately started all appropriate treatments to address the glaucoma and infection.  She stayed overnight and was released the next day.  Luckily, she had no complications or any lingering effects from the incident.

More recently Leia has taken up electronics and TV manipulations. She has removed the Verizon cable running to the modem several times.  Old VHS video boxes hold a fascination. She is especially intrigued by my old horse training videos and THE PRINCESS BRIDE. Of course, Leia loves anything about princesses – she was named after one!!

But one of the funniest things that has happened recently is the day Leia answered the phone. I found her in the family room with the landline receiver in her mouth. . .  well, that’s another blog post.  Stay tuned. 

What will the next six months bring!?

PS:  Leia really is a wonderful puppy. I love her joie de’vivre, her smarts, and affectionate nature. She keeps me laughing. I’m a lucky gal. 

8 months

BONDING

The other day a friend asked me how Leia was doing.

I responded and ended my reply with the statement, “I see her starting to bond with me.”

My friend expressed surprise and asked me to define bonding. 

My thoughts are a compilation of years of experience with cats, dogs, and horses.

I believe that most people mistakenly confuse love and affection for their pet with bonding. Forming a bond takes time and sets the foundation for an owner’s relationship with his/her dog. 

It took me over two years to develop a bond with Hannah, my first Labrador.  Hannah was challenging to train, and I was inexperienced in raising a puppy. Frustration entered into the equation, and it interfered with the key ingredients needed to bond: communication, trust, partnership, structure, calmness, and joy.  Even though I loved Hannah dearly, our bond was not strong. 

Hannah passed her CGC and therapy dog tests when she was 13 months old, and I started therapy dog visits when she was 16 months old.  She was still a puppy, and I would sometimes become impatient with her during therapy visits; our bond was still weak. 

We had done many months of obedience training, and one day I learned about an agility class being offered. I thought Hannah would enjoy it, so I enrolled us. 

Hannah not only enjoyed it; she was passionate about it.  She was smart, bold, and fast – all the ingredients required of an agility dog.  I loved it as well; the instructor was excellent and encouraging.  Laughter replaced frustration, and Hannah and I started working as a team. Agility classes reinforced communication, trust, partnership, structure, calmness, and joy – all the ingredients for bonding.  

And it happened. Like gentle osmosis, Hannah and I bonded. 

I’ve said it before, and I will repeat it here. Our animals are our greatest teachers. We just need to be open to and accept the lessons.  Sometimes they are very subtle, but a true learner is perceptive. 

Most of you have come to know some version of Leia over these past months. It’s no mystery that she is also a challenging puppy.  She’s smart, energetic, and mischievous. I’ve lost my patience a few times, but my animals over the years have taught me to go with the flow, roll with the punches, and LAUGH! And, believe me, if you look past the unraveled rolls of toilet paper, chewed up magazines, a zinnia war, and dumped water bowl, it IS funny.

Along with laughter, I work with Leia to provide structure – to teach her what is acceptable and what is not.  Our dogs LOVE to have a job and most enjoy positive, fun training sessions which helps them to establish and to understand safe parameters.  Every moment is an opportunity for training, and I strongly believe training should be ongoing for the life of the dog. 

It is important to plan for alone time. I leave Heidi at home and take Leia out for socialization or just a walk.  Likewise, I leave Leia home and take Heidi. And often I take both of them together for a surprise and fun dog outing. One-on-one time allows me and my dog to focus exclusively upon each other so that our bond becomes stronger between us rather than with the other dog.

Some things I keep in mind when nurturing a bond with my dog —

  1. I give my dogs space to decompress. Our pets need relaxing alone time as much as humans. I feel strongly that our dogs should be given the freedom to seek our companionship on their terms. 
  2. I remember to exercise awareness in learning to interpret my dog’s body language accurately.  It’s amazing the amount of information our dogs share with us through their body language.  I have learned that when Leia starts panting in her crate that she needs to toilet. 
  3. I spend quality time with my dogs. Going for walks, playing, enjoyable and positive training sessions, or a good grooming all reinforce the ingredients for bonding. Running around the yard isn’t enough and often leads to boredom.  Our dogs love a frequent change of scenery as much as we do!
  4. I focus on consistency and clarity.  Nothing confuses a dog faster than being inconsistent. Consistency offers the dog security and fosters trust. I often tell people that since I live alone, I have no one to mess up my training!
  5. I always try to give my dog the opportunity to succeed by setting realistic expectations for the breed, age, and temperament of the dog. 
  6. I try to stay centered.  Our dogs are incredibly sensitive to our emotions such as anger, frustration, and impatience. If I lose any semblance of emotional calm and balance, I stop what I am doing with my dog. I either end the session or re-direct. 
  7. I focus on setting boundaries for my dogs.  It contributes to their feeling of security and helps them understand the human parameters they are expected to learn.

There’s no mistaking a dog who feels a strong emotional connection with you.  There’s a joyful light in their eyes. They wag, lean against you, and make great eye contact.  They keep tabs on your location and check in to see where you are.

Am I perfect? Far from it! I make mistakes and lose my patience just like any human. But I believe if we strive to be aware and informed, that we can work to be supportive and effective owners who are caring custodians of our dog’s emotional and physical welfare.

. . .  and Leia comes up to me, looks at me, sits down, and leans against me.  It’s definitely a beginning to a beautiful bond. 

** Thank you to Wendi Huttner for taking these photos.

LEIA MEETS NEW FRIENDS

Trail through the woods

Last week, Leia and I were invited to visit my friend Sally, her husband Frank, and their three dogs.  They live on a beautiful ten acre property that abuts a private nature conservancy.  Sally and Frank are members, so I was invited as a guest to enjoy an early morning one and a half hour walk through the gorgeous countryside with Sally, their Labrador Retrievers Ravyn and Luna, and English Setter, Birch.

Leia and two year old Ravyn immediately bonded. It was hysterical to watch them enjoy wild zoomies down the path and through the woods.

Ravyn on left

Routine stops were made by Leia to wallow in available mud puddles. Ravyn accepted the occasional invitation to join Leia for a beauty mud treatment. 

The wooded trail ended at the lake. All four dogs ran ahead and leaped into the water for a refreshing swim. Leia no longer does the splashy doggie paddle; she now swims like a true Labrador.  We were at the dam end of the lake, and Leia tried to climb the concrete lip to get out of the water. The lip was about 3 inches above the water level, just high enough to make it difficult for the dogs to get enough purchase to pull themselves out.  Leia wouldn’t swim over to the shoreline where she could have walked out; instead, she insisted on trying to climb the lip where I was standing.  I finally grabbed her by the scruff and pulled her out.  I stood up, turned my back, and she jumped right back into the lake.  Fun! Fun! 

Luna in the lead, Ravyn, and Leia

After the dogs had a good swim, Sally took us on a different trail (Leia and Ravyn stopped for another mud bath) which led us to the lake’s boat launch and pier. All four dogs crashed into the water for another swim.  Sally threw a stick from the pier and Leia followed Luna and Ravyn by leaping off the pier into the water.  I always had the feeling Leia would leap into water. She’s so bold and fearless. 

Mud loving Leia

After another delightful swim, the dogs reluctantly joined us for the trek home. 

Back at the house, Sally hosed off the dogs before we sat down for lunch and conversation. Both Sally and Frank are ornithologists, and their property is home to a multitude of feeders and birdhouses.  I had the thrilling privilege to see an Indigo Bunting at one of the feeders. I have not seen an Indigo Bunting since my childhood when my Dad pointed one out to me in the mountains outside Shippensburg. 

Before we left, Sally went out to the chicken coop and gathered a dozen fresh brown and blue eggs for me to bring home.

Leia crashed on the back seat and fell asleep.  When we arrived home, she was given a shampoo bath to get the deep seated mud and grit out of her coat. 

What an amazing walk we enjoyed, and it made our day!

**NOTE: Just today I read this PSYCHOLOGY TODAY article about nurturing happy dogs, and it resonated so deeply with me. Our off leash walk in the conservancy allowed our dogs to BE dogs, to be HAPPY dogs. Such an important part of the life of a well-adjusted canine.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fellow-creatures/202004/why-dogs-happiness-not-obedience-is-what-counts?fbclid=IwAR2jyna_CcRJztETdPEM73PHMsBYgYYzdQHLCdlNtGqTwOcTUBk3QEAkwws