Saturday, April 5, 2008


A service dog never knows where it might be asked to go. Whether as a partner to an adult who uses a wheelchair or as a companion to a child with Downs, the pup must be at ease in any atmosphere in any location at any time. To this end, we puppy raisers try to expose our sweet little darlings to a variety of situations and experiences throughout the time we work with them. Generally speaking, we try to take them at the least anywhere a person in a wheelchair can go. Better to work through issues with us, than have an unpredictable reaction in a time of need.

It is not uncommon to hear about dogs being released from the program because of their fear of crossing over various surfaces. A friend's dog got bounced out of Advanced Training when she continually balked at a checkered tile floor, though she had never previously demonstrated that issue with her puppy raiser (and hasn't since). The first dog I raised was released when he absolutely, positively, categorically refused to walk on metal surfaces. He would go to the end of his leash to avoid manhole covers. He would not climb metal stairs. He was terrified of getting on the grooming table. Most unfortunately, he would not jump up into a handicap-equipped van because of the metal flooring. Bye-bye service career, hello petdom!

Sergi, on the other hand, has shown no reservations whatsoever about walking on any surface. Since he was just a couple of months old, I have been taking him out to toilet on the grate in the sidewalk in front of my office and he has walked on it without a concern. Indeed, he seems to have no fear of much of anything so far, which is encouraging for his future success.

We went for a long hike this week around Lake Calaveras and Sergi was his usual good-boy self. We walked mostly on dirt trails and saw lots of little critters: lizards, a couple of quail, several squirrels, a few jackrabbits, and accidentally flushed out some morning doves from their nest. Sergi's ears perked up at the movements and noises, but he never pulled on his leash or tried to go after anything. Considering how much he loves to chase and retrieve his toy ball at home, I'm always pleased and a little surprised at how relaxed he is on leash on the trail.

At one point we came to a stream with a fun little home-made bridge across it, kind of resembling a lengthwise ladder. I didn't know how Sergi would do with this brand new idea. I had no intention of forcing him to cross it, but was eager to see if he would do it willingly. It took less than a minute for him to decide that this would be something he could do! Once across, he went back and forth several times and nailed it each time easily and with tail wagging.

Although I removed his leash to work through this exercise, it didn't stay off for long. The first picture shows what was all around us in this shady area — poison oak. We leashed up quickly before getting any of it on dog fur and continued our hike with images of agility competitions dancing in our heads.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Easter and Kids

One thing that every pet owner hopes for is an animal that will be gentle with children. Part of our job as puppy raisers is to introduce our pups to kids and try to mold their behavior so that they aren't too rough or too assertive with little ones. It's always a little nerve-wracking watching an exuberant dog run alongside a child or jump up near one. It's so easy to knock a kid over and once they're hurt, some children will fear dogs forever.

I was delighted on Easter Sunday when Sergi got to spend some off leash time with my great-nephews in my brother's back yard. The two boys are 3 and 1 1/2 years old and wanted to run and play with the puppy after the egg hunt was done. The littler one dragged Sergi around everywhere. He fell on him, he pushed him, he lay on top of him. Sergi was the perfect gentleman.

Although I always kept a vigilant eye on the two of them throughout the morning, it was so relaxing to learn that Sergi was able to tone down his rowdiness to blend with the little boy. And what better sight than to see a little boy loving on a dog. It was a great day.

The Good, The Bad and The Irish

I have talked in previous posts about Sergi's tendency to whine. I've tried several different methods to try to stop the habit, from leash corrections to spritz of vinegar and water. When nothing worked, I talked to a friend in the Puppy Program office at CCI. She has raised a whiny pup and her advice was what I was coming to suspect: Do nothing. No reaction, no acknowledgement, no response at all. Occasionally we find that even negative feedback is still reinforcement of a behavior. The silent treatment does seem to be working — slowly — and the vocalizations seem to be tapering off.

A few days ago I was sitting in one of my back bedrooms at my computer when Sergi began loudly moaning/whining. I knew he had already been out and didn't have to toilet, so there was no good reason for it. I ignored it. He got louder. I remained deaf. He became insistent and louder yet until finally I threw up my hands and said, "Fine! Let's go out!"

I walked him out to the hallway and was almost to the living room when I smelled it. I turned the corner and saw my entire living room, dining room and kitchen filled with smoke. I had failed to properly turn off a frying pan on the stove and it was charred and scorched. I can't believe my parrots weren't screaming, the burner had probably been on for more than an hour. But Sergi knew. His incessant complaints had got me out of my chair to take care of the problem. Today, my whiny boy was my hero!
(And now I have to figure out why the smoke alarm didn't go off!)

The stalwart action of my tenacious pup was a nice balance to an otherwise difficult week. Sergi continues to surprise me with the amount of energy he has. He has such a difficult time being still. We walk, we hike, we play, we socialize. It never seems quite enough — he just always seems so restless. Because he is a vigorous chewer, I try to find appropriate toys to keep his jaws challenged. Most items he plows through in just days, even those "indestructible" ones. He'll find a weak spot and work and work and work away at it until he has shredded, disassembled or eroded the thing. Chew bones and toys that my previous four dogs have enjoyed and passed down from one to the next, Sergi has destroyed.

CCI always tells us that pups really don't need anything to lie on in their crates. Still, our human sensibilities reason that it's only fair to give them some kind of blanket or bed to take away the hardness of the plastic just a tad while we sleep nearby in our soft, warm beds. All of my pups have done fine with this, and until this week, so did Sergi.

I had to leave Sergi alone for almost four hours one morning. I made sure he had toileted properly and gave him a sterilized bone to gnaw on when I put him in his crate. Inside was the dog bed he sleeps on every night. I gave him a treat and left, confident that he would be fine. When I got home, here is what I saw. He now sleeps on the plastic.

One holiday that is always celebrated at my house is St. Patrick's Day. Coming from an Irish family (my father), we always have a family dinner and do the corned beef and cabbage thing. Of course, the pups don't know which day is which, only that here is another occasion when they get to put on a colorful scarf and are made to wear goofy head things.

Sergi is glad he'll be in Advanced Training the next time St. Paddy's Day rolls around.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Sergi's enthusiasm for activity was never more apparent than yesterday when we went for a long hike around the hills between San Marcos and Encinitas and then up to the top of Double Peak. Much of the way we walked was on a single track dirt trail with bushes of blooming California Lilac all around. On a clear day from the summit you can see the observatory on Mount Palomar to the north, Iron Mountain to the east, Cowles Mountain to the south and Catalina to the west. The view takes your breath away.

Sergi was great about staying right behind me on the trail. Several times we had to bushwhack to get where we were going or climb up and down a steep hillside of loose rocks. He was always ready for the challenge and went everywhere with only the occasional slight coaxing. He was excellent about never pulling away from the leash after any of the critters we saw, he didn't chase anything and pretty much ignored the skittering noises and the quick glimpses of small furry things.

We started out around 10:30 in the morning, took a lunch break around 2:00 and headed for home just after 5:00 PM. As we started down the hill, I thought Sergi must be as tired as I was and we had both slowed our pace down considerably. Instead, he found a rivulet of water going down the hill and the sight of the running water re-energized him like a brand new puppy! He went nuts! His tail went up, his ears perked forward and chasing the water became his obsession.

That is, until he found the stink bug. Sergi has always shown a keen interest in bugs, though he has never met a stink bug before. And this was a laaaaarge stink bug. He sniffed it and tried to lick it. It tried to crawl away. He ran to the front of it and stopped it and tried to paw it and reached down with his nose to push it around. The bug was not happy — he assumed the position. The next thing you know, Sergi was backing off quickly, shaking his head, licking and pawing at his nose. Back by my side, he tried rubbing it off on my leg. A new lesson learned.

Stink Bug — 1, Sergi – 0.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Kindergarten Graduate!

This is a quick entry to document that Sergi passed his final exam for Kindergarten tonight! His performance was rated on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best, for a variety of skills he had to demonstrate. He got a 9 or 10 on everything.

Walking on a loose leash: 10
Sit: 9 (a little slow)
Down: 9 (a little slow)
Wait: 9 (needed a slight correction the first pass, perfect the second pass)
Leave: 9 (slight hesitation)
Here: 10
Sit-Stay: 10
Down-Stay: 10

We will now move on to Basic class in a couple of weeks. He has actually already started learning several of the Basic skills like Heel and Under and Stand. We'll spend a lot more time working on positioning now, making sure that his ear flap lines up with my pant seam when we walk and that his sit and down are right next to me.

He's a great learner and still shows a lot of enthusiasm for working. Our journey is going well!

Thursday, March 6, 2008


As a new puppy raiser, I was always surprised when my "rock-solid" dog — who knew a command backwards and forwards — would fail to perform it in class in front of the trainer. "But he does this perfectly at home!" is the common lament. And so he may. But what a pup knows in a controlled home environment and what he knows in a noisy, scent-filled, action-packed venue are two completely different things. Our trainer constantly reminds us that until a dog can perform a command 100 times, without fault, in any kind of situation or location, he does not "know" the command and we are still in training mode.

The reality of that hit me yesterday when I took Sergi out geocaching with a friend and her dog. We started in San Clemente and followed PCH up the coast to Dana Point, stopping at several different parks and walking on a variety of bike/pedestrian paths, mostly along the ocean. Because it was a beautiful coastal day, everywhere we went there were people and kids and dogs.

I've always been very good about teaching the "Let's Go" command and my dogs usually shine at walking on a loose leash. In class and at home, this is one of Sergi's best skills. Yesterday, I was reminded that he doesn't know it and is still learning.

The woman who went with us lets her dog pull on her leash and walk in front of us. Sergi seemed to think that he should do that too and constantly tried to keep up with her. He strayed off the path frequently when he saw dogs walking the other way or repeatedly lagged behind with his nose on the ground sniffing every couple of feet. I had a pocketful of treats and lots of praise, but the distractions were more that he could handle.

As the "No" and "Don't" commands came more and more frequently, our walk became less and less enjoyable. I realized that all the previous trail hiking we had been doing had been relatively solitary and that we really had not been out with so many people and noises and animals over such a long period of time. By mid-afternoon, Sergi was exhausted and so was I.

In all fairness to Sergi, we cut off the hikes and I let him fall asleep in the back of the car. A fundamental rule when raising a pup is to know when to stop. Sergi was glad to get home and ran around his own yard like a cheetah, glad to be unleashed and free. He's so smart, I forget how young he is, but days like this remind me that for his sake I can't.

Luckily, I was able to get a couple of nice photos of him while we were out and about.

On Display

One of the fun things we get to do while raising a CCI puppy is presentations to school and civic organizations. It doesn't matter if you are good at speaking or bad, no one really cares what you're saying, they just want to see the dog. And speaking to children is the easiest of all.

Every year about this time, I go with my pup to Laurel Elementary School in Oceanside and read to one or more of the first, second or third grade classes. I usually choose a book that has something to do with dogs and the kids impatiently listen while they look at my puppy and dream about petting him. Today, Sergi and I went and read to a group of second graders.

I start by introducing Sergi and talking about the importance of never petting a strange dog without asking permission. I don't emphasize the working dog part of it as I want to discourage children from reaching out and petting any dog they don't know. I then explain what a halti is and that he is not a mean dog that might bite them. Having lived my entire life with one kind of a dog or another, I'm always surprised by how many kids are fearful of dogs. Once they realize they shouldn't be trying to touch Sergi and that he is calm and gentle, they settle in as best they can and listen to the story.

After the reading is done, I talk for a few minutes about "helper dogs" and what kinds of commands and tasks Sergi, or another dog like him, will learn and perform for a disabled partner. I then ask all the children to line up and come one at a time to ask if they may pet my dog or shake his paw. When they do it correctly, their teacher is standing by with a bookmark and a coloring book that I have brought to hand to each.

Sergi is just about as young as a dog can be to go to a presentation like this. I wasn't worried about his temperament or him misbehaving, but the distraction can be very stressful for a young pup being asked to perform. It was hard for him to pay a lot of attention to me, although with a treat in my hand he looked at me constantly. But I could see that his ears were elsewhere and I soon quit asking him to do anything but the very simple sit, down and shake (which in itself was tough enough). Still, the 8-year-olds were thrilled with him. He could have done everything wrong and they would have continued to applaud at his slightest movement. They loved him.

I was proud of him today for staying calm and quiet throughout our class time. He kept his licking to a minimum and was not excitable at any of the greetings. I'll take Sergi back in Fall for another visit. He'll be older and more mature, he'll have more commands under his belt and he'll be better able to handle the fidgety little boys and the squealing little girls with focus. I'm not sure any of those kids will really care, though, as far as they were concerned today he was the best dog in the world.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

SW Graduation February 08

Sergi attended his second CCI graduation yesterday — the first being when he was just eight weeks old in November when we turned in his half-brother Pryde for advanced training. Sergi whined throughout almost the entire ceremony. It was very embarrassing. But, a whiner he is, and though we work on it continuously, he continues to do it. I've never had a whiny dog before. It's quite....shall we say...challenging? Actually, annoying is more like it.

We watched a couple of our friends turn in their pups, saw two friends' dogs graduate with wonderful matches, and we visited with folk that we generally only get to see the four times a year that graduation takes place. The greatest part of the day was getting Sergi together with his namesake. Ken Sergi was delighted to see us (him) and pleased and somewhat surprised at how nicely puppy Sergi has grown and lost his puppy fat.

Of course, pictures were in order and many were taken. It's wonderful to have a professional photographer documenting the stages of this wonderful dog. I continue to hope that Puppy Sergi will make Daddy Sergi proud as he finds his way and chooses his path.

Each graduation, I am reminded of a wonderful poem that I read on the CCI-People list years ago. I think it was written by Dailyah Patt:

Someone told me you're trying to grow a beautiful rose for us.

You might not have even been told that was your goal. You were probably handed some healthy startings, told vaguely to nuture them and told that we'd see you back in about a year.

As time has gone by you've doted, fretted and fussed. You've given those startings every chance possible. The plant is healthy and hardy. The flowers are stunningly gorgeous.

No one who sees your bundle isn't amazed at what you've helped grow from the small startings you were given...nobody could've possibly done a better job.

But you're trying to grow us a rose. And while tulips, orchids and sunflowers are very pretty and special indeed, they're not roses...

You couldn't have known what those startings would grow up to be. No one could have...unless someone like you had loved and nutured them for over a year so they'd flower. Raisers, please remember this no matter how badly you want to give us a beautiful rose.

If you were handed tulip bulbs - you've done a phenomenal job raising if the tulips are the vision of what a tulip can be.

If you were handed orchid startings or sunflower seeds, please know that the world wouldn't be complete without their color and zest.

If you were handed a rosebush, thank you for helping us make sure that all of the flowers go where they should.

Now, if you were given some startings and they whithered away because you didn't shower them with attention and care...well, nevermind - I've never known any CCI Puppyraisers like that.

On the Trail

Where we live in Southern California it is usually very dry. Sometimes, alarmingly dry. Luckily this year we are getting a good amount of rain and reservoirs are filling and lakes and streams are being replenished. I'm glad for the rain, but it really cuts into our outdoor time and both Sergi and I get restless staying inside.

Each time we go out hiking, Sergi gets better and better on the trail. He walks easily beside me if the path is wide enough or behind me on a narrow one. He goes up and down the steep hills without forging or dragging and most of the time I am barely aware that there is a leash between us.

We've been out several times this month, trying to get some exercise and find a few geocaches whenever the weather permits. We've been on trails in county parks, suburban ped/bike paths, beautifully improved city trails and some rougher country animal tracks. Occasionally we see rabbits, ducks, squirrels and other quick, furry critters. So far, Sergi has shown an interest in them, but not a keen prey drive and has not yet made any attempt to chase anything or bolt on the leash.

We went out last week, in between rainstorms, to an area that was very muddy and at times somewhat steep. Because it was an enclosed section with a perimeter fence, I was able to let Sergi off leash for a bit, for both his safety and mine, as we descended the hillside. Once on flatland he discovered the mud. Oh what a delight! He ran, he frolicked, he slipped and he slid in it. He splashed through the muddy water and just when I thought he couldn't get any dirtier, he rolled in it. I've never seen him happier.

This is one of those entries where pictures tell the story better than words.

Election Day

Everybody loves a puppy. I hear all the time, "Don't you just wish they could just stay that size?"

Well, no I, for one, don't. I love the growing process. I love watching their brains develop, their temperaments mature, their personality quirks come out. But mostly, I love the freedom of being able to take my pup out in public and watch and guide them as they are introduced to the big, wide world. Some of them are intimidated by it and some of them thrive with the new experiences. Sergi seems to take it all in stride.

By the time Election Day rolled around in California, Sergi had completed all of his shots and vaccinations. It was safe to take him out into the perils of (gasp) walking around the neighborhood. With many feral cats, possums and an occasional raccoon in my vicinity, we just never know what forms of parvo, rabies, or other contagious germs might be out lurking about. But on this day, we were assured to be safely inoculated so that we could walk the few blocks over to the local polling place and cast a ballot.

Sergi walked easily on a loose leash, startling only very slightly the first time a loud motorcycle zoomed by us. Within a couple of minutes, he was completely comfortable and barely noticed the fenced-in dogs that barked continuously at us as we walked past neighbors' houses. We walked into the parking lot and over to the room, checked in, got our form and filled in the bubbles. Civic duty done.

What's almost as fun as watching your pup in each new situation, is watching the reactions of folks to your pup – especially when you are in a place where people don't expect to see a dog. The volunteers at the election station were no exception. They were all excited to see him, wanted to know all about him and, of course, wanted to pet him. I was pleased that there was never any question as to whether or not he was allowed in and that he was welcomed with open arms. Sergi did an "UP" on the table as I got my "I voted" sticker. They were so impressed, they gave him one, too.

The only thing better than taking your pup out in public is taking your well-behaved, well-trained pup out in public. Sergi was an excellent ambassador for CCI that day and, as always, helped keep open doors and minds for that disabled team that may come after us.

Learning to Live Among Humans

With each new puppy comes the need to tailor and adjust the CCI-approved training methods to meet and adapt to the qualities of the dog. When I got my second CCI pup, everyone told me he would be different than the first and not to compare them. I KNEW he would be different, but it didn't occur to me that I would have to be different. I had to stop and realize that each one learns at a different rate and is motivated by a different inducement. I had to change my training methods to correspond with the intelligence and temperament of the new puppy.

The first few months of the pup's life, puppy raisers spend a lot of time teaching basic house manners, things like where and when to toilet, what and what not to chew, acceptable greeting conduct and how to stay quietly in a crate. To successfully do this, a puppy raiser has to recognize what positive rewards really motivate the dog to perform. Some dogs go nuts over squeaky toys, for some verbal praise and a pat on the head is all that's needed, for most (but not all) a small food treat will do the trick. The key is to gauge how much of what kind and when.

The ideal is a pup who minds and complies because he likes to train and wants to please. So it is with Sergi. It is such a joy to work with him and see the constantly wagging tail. He is my first pup to show so early on an enthusiasm for learning new things and a desire to do more. Although he has not graduated from Kindergarten yet, he has been learning and performing several of the commands that are not taught until the next class, Basic. He seems to grasp the concepts quickly and follows the lure/treat easily. Within 10 minutes of practicing, he can usually execute the motions with little or no assistance. (Of course, this is in the quiet of my living room with no distractions.)

We attended the annual Volunteer Appreciation Day at CCI at the beginning of February. It's always such a fun day with a chili cook-off, games and prizes for people and for dogs. This year, one of the games was "Musical Down" in which everyone walks around in a circle and the last dog down when the music stops is eliminated until only one dog is left. Sergi won his age division!! It's always a delight when a puppy is able to concentrate enough to obey a command in the middle of a room filled with dozens of people and dogs, noise, talking, laughter and smells. Of course in my somewhat skewed opinion, Sergi was magnificent.

The exciting part is not just the quick learning ability that he seems to be blessed with, but the joy he demonstrates that just seems to be a part of who he intrinsically is. Sergi loves working. His ears are up, his tail is wagging and there is a prance in his step. It may be that because he is so bright he is happiest when his mind is occupied and he is busy. He needs and loves a challenge and it is my struggle to continue to provide one.

But, of course, busy brains also get bored easily. Which brings us back to house manners.

Sergi is the most destructive pup I've raised yet. Soft toys, dog beds, crate liners and chew bones that have lasted through four other dogs have turned into shredded pieces of unrecognizable atomic particles. Several large stuffed animals that my other pups have slept with and cuddled with, Sergi has torn to pieces and eviscerated. He is the first dog I've ever had to drag his dog bed around the house, shaking it senseless, trying to kill it. When given one of the so-called "indestructible" dog toys, he will work on it to the exclusion of all else until he has found its weakness and has got at least some of it frayed to the point it has to be thrown away.

I always have to return to the puzzle of determining what is the positive reinforcement that will trigger Sergi's actions to conform with the behavior required to live peacefully and happily as a well-adjusted member of a human household. Whether he chooses to become a beloved pet or an assistance partner as his destiny, clearly his desire to work and keep his mind occupied will influence his future.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Road Trip

I got bad news last Monday that my last remaining uncle died. My cousin asked if I could come up to help and of course I said I could. I had a trip to Las Vegas planned, but I told her I would come as soon as I got back. The services weren't until Sunday, so I had a couple of days leeway.

When I got back from LV on Friday I picked Sergi up from Ann's house and brought him home for the night. We got up early Saturday, packed our bags, and left by 6:30 AM for the long drive to Santa Rosa with a quick stop in Valencia to pick up my other cousin. Sergi settled into his crate in the car and I hoped that he would not get too restless during the 10+ hour drive.

We stayed in a hotel -- The Flamingo -- a couple of miles from my aunt and uncle's house and spent the next few days visiting, cooking, drinking wine, snacking on bread and cheese, remembering, talking, laughing, crying and sharing.

My aunt had requested that Sergi come on the trip to see her. She had briefly met him back in November when I was there visiting over the Thanksgiving weekend. She loves all of the CCI pups I have raised and was eager to see Sergi again and see how the rambunctious young fellow was doing. I was a little concerned that his energy would be unappreciated with all that was going on, so I made a point of taking him for walks each morning to try to burn off some of it before going over to the house. This was also his first stay in a hotel, and though I had a familiar portable crate for him, there is always the worry about the strangeness of the room and his ability to adjust to new surroundings. At four months old, Sergi was being asked to behave and adapt at a level above his usual expectations.

Well, I couldn't have been more proud from beginning to end. Sergi rode quietly in his crate every moment we were in the car. He was calm throughout the day, even though there was quite a bit of hubbub going on. He sat near my auntie and let her pat and stroke him while she told him about how sad she was. He went with us to the church for the service and up to the altar kneeling rail with me when we received communion. (He actually tried to go up past me, with tail wagging, to greet the priest as he prepared the wine, but I snatched him back down. The priest thought he was great!) Sergi went to the graveside and stood near my aunt as we threw dirt on the grave, and was still and gentle as it all took place. His demeanor in the hotel was stellar and we had no accidents or issues. He really could not have done better.

We puppyraisers talk all the time about how amazing these pups are and how they touch people. Yes, when they graduate, they change lives. Their new partners tell us over and over how much the dogs enrich their lives and help them overcome or deal with their handicaps. But as puppyraisers we also see how our pups enrich the lives of the people along the way well before they graduate. This experience was one of those moments. Having Sergi there helped us all. Surely, my aunt who needed a pair of big, brown non-judgemental eyes to tell her sorrow to. But also each of the rest of us, who would reach over for a pat or a lick or a tummy scritch. Each of us found a few seconds of solace and joy in the interaction with a little yellow pup who was eager to share his soft coat and velvet ears and unconditional love.

These dogs touch lives. I'm so happy to be able to share in all that they have to give.

Sleep Over

For my birthday this year, my dearest friend, Louise, treated me to a Las Vegas vacation/show package. We went to see Phantom of the Opera, which she knows is one of my very, very favorites. It clearly was not a place appropriate for such a young puppy as Sergi, so I had to make arrangements for him to stay with someone during the three days I would be gone.

The first person who came to mind was my good friend Ann, who adopted my third puppy, Hefner. She is a great dog handler, knows the CCI commands, and is able to take the dogs to work with her. I crossed my fingers when I called and was thrilled when she answered "yes" to my request to puppy sit. Sergi was going to get to stay with his big brother for two nights and I was going to get to enjoy my birthday without worrying about my boy.

I was sorry that Sergi was not more reliably toilet-trained for his visit, but Ann was willing to deal with it anyway. I packed his overnight bag, filled it with familiar toys and food, and off he went last Wednesday for his adventure.

When I picked him up on Friday, Ann was still speaking to me and said that it had gone pretty well. Sergi had a couple of accidents, but did well for the most part. Ann was also puppysitting another dog, Clementine, which took the pressure off of Hefner to be Sergi's sole source of amusement. Sergi and Clem did very well, I heard, and the three of them tired each other out.

Ann made a slide show for me of Sergi's adventures. The captions on the pictures are just priceless, I wish I had her wit.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Cabin Fever

We are mostly blessed in Southern California to be able to be active outside about 355 days a year. Where I live, near the ocean, the average temperature is in the low 70's and almost every day is a Chamber of Commerce day. We don't have snow, sleet, hail, gales, tornadoes, hurricanes or, for that matter, enough rain usually. We have been ten years now in a drought, but it looks like this winter we will get enough precipitation to reach our normal rainfall level of about eight inches. This weekend has been one of the few that has kept Sergi and me indoors because of the inclement weather. Sergi's having a tough time staying indoors, but it beats the alternative.

For the most part, Sergi is one brave dog, but yesterday I found his weakness: rain. He is miserable in it and wants nothing to do with it. The first time he went out and raindrops hit him, he yowled like a junkyard dog. It was like little balls of fire were pelting him from the sky. When asked to walk through a puddle, he almost became immobile. He couldn't figure out how to get around the puddle, so he actually sort of "tiptoed" through it, as if getting his feet wet would cause him to melt. It is actually hilarious to watch (poor puppy!).

In between cloudbursts today, I took him outside for a short romp and run to get his energy out. He tore around the front yard like a bullet. The term "FRAP" is used for this kind of wild running, an acronym for Frenetic Running And Playing. His tail is tucked, his head down and he runs like a racehorse going for the finish line. I tried taking pictures of it, but mostly he was going so fast I had lots of empty frames of nothing but grass.

One major thing I noticed today is that Sergi is losing his puppy shape. There's a big change starting in his body structure – the transition from cute rolly polly puppy to dog. His abdomen is starting to show a tuck and he is developing his waistline. His legs are getting longer and he will soon be starting his lanky, gangly stage.

This is always such a bittersweet time since maturity signals progress and is so much easier to deal with on a day-to-day supervision basis. But it also is a hallmark of the loss of those cute little puppyisms, the innocence, the antics that only babies provide.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


One of my favorite hobbies is a game/sport called geocaching. It involves one person hiding an item, listing the long/lat coordinates on a website ( and then another person using a handheld GPS unit going out and finding it. Once the cache is located, the finder signs a log inside and replaces it so that the next geocacher can have the same fun. The item can be as small as a thumbnail or as large as a paint bucket. The cache can be hidden in a shopping center parking lot or on top of Mount Whitney (yes, there really is one there!).

One of the best things about geocaching is that it takes you to trails you don't necessarily know about, to see things you may not have seen and gives you a reason to get up and outside in the fresh air and put some miles on your boots. I first learned about geocaching by reading about it in the dog magazine "The Bark" as a fun activity to do with a dog. And that it is!

Sergi is old enough now and has had enough shots to start going out into the world. On New Year's Day, I took him out for his first geocaching hike along the improved trails around Discovery Lake. We went with Patty Irby, a CCI trainer, and her two pet dogs, Molly and Matthau. We hiked about three miles and found four caches. Sergi was a terrific trail dog! He trotted alongside the big dogs, matching them stride for stride. I was worried that he would get tired and I would have to carry him, but he kept up easily everywhere we went. Of course, whenever we stopped to find a cache and sign the log, Sergi lay down and rested for a few minutes. But he eagerly got up each time he was asked to go again.

We saw lots of people and other dogs walking around the trails. A few mountain bikes whizzed by, joggers passed us, we saw lots of birds, ducks and coots, and all the time Sergi was excellent about walking on a loose leash, not pulling and not reacting fearfully to anything that came his way.

Encouraged by that success, I took him out again today in the hills above the Batiquitos Lagoon. We walked on posted but rocky trails and did a few steep hill climbs. Again, Sergi was magnificent in his ability to walk next to me without lunging or dragging and was willing to go anywhere I asked him to go. He drank easily from the flexible water dish I brought with us and even helped me find one of the caches I was looking for.

It's a nice omen to have a pup that is not reluctant to go new places and is not afraid of new surroundings. I was very proud of the boy out there and look forward to some great times together, hiking and walking together as a team.

A good friend of mine, who is also a puppy raiser for CCI, has a blog all about geocaching with her puppy. You can check it out at