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.