Monday, February 28, 2011

Precocious Ppups

Petunia, Panther, Puma, I think

The ppuppies have gotten precocious. Pandora has gotten out of the box twice today and Xita is a bit distraught. They were clamoring and swarming all over the box, obviously hungry and Xita just wanted me to fix it all. So I made her lie down and feed them and stroked her head and told her she was wonderful and then the oxytocin buzz kicked in and her milk let down and there were 8 gulping babies moaning in happiness. (#9 was Primus, the black boy, who was sound asleep in the corner--guess he got his belly filled earlier!)


I've been watching and thinking about the service dog puppy training videos--they have very young puppies learning complex commands--such as to carry and tug. They do very prescriptive handling routines (like the military "bio-sensor" program for puppies) to stimulate the puppies every day. But then their puppies are born and spend their first weeks in a kennel situation. There's quite a bit of daily exposure that my puppies get just from being in the same room with me for 8-12 hours almost every day (my at-home office).

Petunia is very serious about her food!

 But I was intrigued by the early puppy training and decided that I would play with seeing what we could teach very young puppies. So I had my friends Andrea (my puppy picture hand model!) and her husband D. and her mother come for a visit on Saturday. I mixed up some puppy gruel and we all proceeded to feed puppies off our fingers.

Petunia is really into this hand-feeding thing!

Peregrine has Andrea in her sway.

The puppies loved it and we humans got ridiculous amounts of enjoyment from interacting with the puppies and having them try to toothlessly devour our fingers. Almost immediately, we could see their response to us change--they were moving toward us more and climbing on us to get to our fingers. Yesterday and today, I can tell that this has carried over--they are more active and moving toward me. So, I am sold on at least some of this.

We will continue! Next Saturday will be another "training" session--we'll see if we can get the 3-week-old pups to do some baby sits and climb over some obstacles. Who knows what they'll be doing by 8 weeks!

For most of the puppy finger feeding frenzy, Xita was crated with a bone, but she let us know after about 30 minutes that she needed to make sure her puppies were OK.

Puma (aka "Piglet") is not going to let that finger get away
Xita is extremely protective of her puppies, and even with Andrea and Daniel, whom she likes very much, she was wary. She only allowed them to interact with the pups according to her rules. Some of those rules are that you're not allowed to stand up near her, and you're not allowed to leave the room and come back, and you're most definitely not allowed to have a puppy crying. She doesn't get frantic or bark--she gives extremely direct looks and will growl very clearly. For a dog without language, she is remarkably clear in her communications.

Pele, the solid black female, worn out!

If you're following the rules but she thinks you're paying too much attention to the pups, Xita will "hug" you--that is, she leans her chest against yours and puts her head over your shoulder. It's very affectionate--and very good at keeping you away from the pups. She lets me do anything with her and the puppies (she's never, ever growled at me or given me that hard look), but even I get the the Hug of Doom sometimes, when she thinks I should stop messing with the pups.

Panther, the black sable male

I was reading someone's blog and they talked about having "Puppy Potlucks" for those interested in helping to socialize the pups--I think that is a wonderful idea. So I am hoping to implement that for these pups. By the time the pups are 4 weeks, I think Xita will be less intense about guarding the puppies, and it will be good for more people to come visit and help us in our puppy training and socialization.
Pollux, the red sable male, is crazy handsome--he's got a huge head and rich red coloring already
Primus--solid black male. We decided after these pictures that he should really be named "Playboy"
Primus, aka Playboy
Pagan, black sable girl

Peregrine, aka "Pippin"

Just a note: I have been having problems with my ISP--some websites won't open for me, namely, Facebook. If you need to reach me, please e-mail me directly.

Herding and HRD

Friday, I got up at 4:30 and drove to Isle of Wight, Virginia with 5 dogs in the truck.

I got in a herding lesson with Macha and Hunter before 10 am. Hunter was not where I would like her to be--she doesn't really trust me and watches for me to turn my back so she can dart in and grab a sheep while I'm not looking. She and I need to do some work on building a foundation for training. She had the misfortune to be born a few months after the deaths of Thorn and Frost--and I think I wasn't up to putting a lot of training into her first few years. Because one of the things I value most is that strong working relationship, accepting that Hunter doesn't really trust me feels like admitting to a failure. But, I suppose, it's really just that I have to think hard on how to fix that which is broken between us.

Macha... she was brilliant. She has lots of drive for working the sheep and she is very responsive to praise from me. She's showing a strong desire to work with me as well as a naturally gentle approach to her sheep. Not scared of them--pressing close against them in a tight spot--but not feeling the need to bite them to make them move. She was fantastic. Amazing. Awesome. Then we worked her again in the afternoon, and she was again fantastic. Amazing. Awesome. I can't wait to work her again on sheep. In the meantime, I will work on teaching her some mechanical commands--sit, down, stand there, get back--with obstacles like the picnic table and a ball as a reward.

At 10, we stopped herding and met with the SAR/HRD (human remains discovery) group. I walked along with several dogs as they did their 2 acre searches for cadaver sources that L. had planted earlier. It's good for me to learn how not to signal the dog and but how to keep an eye always on the dog, watching for that first moment when the scent is found, the change of behavior as the dog zones in on the strongest scent and then indicates the find.

Then a couple members of the group helped me introduce Lynx to some source scent. He was brilliant. :) I am going to make a series of posts about how I started him on indications and how we introduced the scent--so I won't go into detail here. But it was a thrill to watch him thinking through and testing the criteria for what would get him his reward. He is so much fun to train--he's like a thinky version of his grandfather Ash, with only half the squeaking!

After HRD training, I and T. ran out to lunch then up to pick up some sheep feed, then back to her farm for a few more herding lessons. We worked Jubilee. In her last herding lesson, she had made it clear that she far preferred chaos and havoc to calm and obedient. I had decided on a zero tolerance policy on disregarding the down/stop command and she had, quite literally, rolled her eyes at me and then shrugged off me placing her in the down. So, I brought her out on leash on the prong collar. I asked her to down outside the gate--she did. I entered the area with the sheep--down. I walked toward the sheep--down. I stepped away from her and she held the down. I called her to me and she came promptly. For all of this, I'd had a loose leash and had given no corrections or leash pressure or anything other than a calm, quiet command and calm praise. I asked for another down and I pretended to turn my back on her. Her ears popped forward and her eyes got intense. I pretended to keep looking away but I stepped so a small tree was between me and Jubilee. T. said something to me and I shifted to look at T., knowing that Jubilee was going to lunge -- and she did. The line between me and her tightened against the tree and she popped herself on the collar. I called her to me and asked for another down. And... she was good.

She was done fighting me. She was prompt in her responses to everything I asked, so I gave her a chance to work the sheep. She stayed responsive and respectful, stopping behind the sheep and walking slow when I told her easy. She even stopped on her own and walked the sheep forward toward me--not running me over with sheep flying like popcorn, not taking 5 steps after every down command, not causing havoc and reveling in it. It's amazing how good she is when she is good.

I left shortly after a second session with Hunter and Macha and got home after dark. My puppy sitter had been by twice to visit Xita and the puppies and all had gone well. Despite the speeding ticket I got on the way home, it was a *very good* day.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Nike vs. the Axis of Evil

Oda just tried to pull her newly developed snapping turtle routine on Nike.

Oda was lying on thedog bed with her special Orbee whistle ball, which is extra-special good because it is soft and kinda squishy and makes these excellent sucking noises when you chew it.

Nike started to walk past, not even looking at Oda's ball or bed, and Oda launched forward with a GRRRWRRRR and a gaping mouth of teeth. Nike, who has seen all this before, didn't make a sound, just circled away from Oda, letting the teeth bounce off her ruff and shoulder.*

Nike, being Nike, did her 360 circling routine and seemed to shrug and decide to head back from whence she came, and Oda went back for her bed, but in the process she dislodged her ball, which rolled toward Nike's foot.

Nike, ever quick to seize the advantage, and the ball, scooped it up, despite the landshark's re-launch, and trotted away with ball in mouth.

Oda seeing the failure of her second bluff, watched a bit hopelessly as Nike walked away, ball in mouth, then Oda went back to the bed, picked up a bone, and played with it a second, tossing it in the air and grabbing it with her feet, as if to say, "doesn't matter, my bone is better anyway!"

Nike, meanwhile, has tucked herself in a crate, ball between paws, a sly smile on her face.

Nike is so much win.

*Oda's not biting (as in, closing her jaws/teeth), just launching with mouth open--at 7 months, she doesn't have the gravitas to do this routine for reals, with actual biting, but if she keeps it up, she will eventually get there--she tried it 3 times on her visiting brother Sid this weekend, and the 3rd time ended with Sid's paw on her head and an embarrassed look on Oda's face--very much a "How did that happen???" expression.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ppictures of Ppuppies

I've created a gallery for the P-litter puppy pictures and will regularly upload pictures there--even if haven't posted about adding new pictures. :)

For now, I'm going to use these names (for fun--probably not final names):

1. Primus: solid black male, first born
2. Pollux: dark red sable male
3. Panther: black sable male

4. Pele: solid black female
5. Petunia: smallest puppy, black sable female
6. Poppy: big bt female
7. Pandora: small bt female
8. Piglet: red sable female (she had the biggest belly yesterday!)
9. Pagan: big black sable female

Look, even Xita rolls her eyes at me!

Everyone's doing great--happy and hungry, sleeping, eating, and sleeping some more. Even Xita!

Blackthorn Kennel Facebook page

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sooner than later, Ppuppies!

Xita, wider than normal!
Xita has started labor. She's very early in the process--nesting, wanting to go out every 30 minutes, trying to dig a hole in the bottom of the 400 crate. She likes to come over and stare at me intensely, trying very, very, very hard to get me to just UNDERSTAND. Also, I'm not allowed to go too far away.

She popped out her milk yesterday--woke up in the morning and suddenly she had boobs! Full bags.

Sorry for the sunspot! It's bright out there and Xita's not being helpful!

Dad, for the curious, is an awesome dog named Bandit v Wolfsheim. He's Sch3, FH, KK1a, V rated in conformation, and son of one of the top-producing working dogs in Europe. He has his own FB page!

In addition to his good looks and great working ability and strong working-line pedigree, he's got impeccable temperament--neutral and accepting of strangers, no dog aggression, and sound, sound, sound nerves. He's producing puppies with very good drives and great nerves, too. (More Bandit pictures.)


I'm expecting these two to produce puppies of exceptional temperament with plenty of drive to work but the ability to turn off and make great house dogs. Should have beautiful conformation, strong pigmentation (lots of red!) and lovely heads, big bone, medium to large size--sables, blacks, and dark black and red (like Xita's color).

I'm guessing 9 pups. I'll soon know!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It gets no easier

Ashen, a few weeks before his death,
watches me walk the rest of the dogs
Two weeks ago, I got up late, having overslept for my agility class. I would need to rush to get everyone taken care of and get to class on time. I walked Coal and Xita in the front yard, the terriers too. I  let Macha out, made sure the cats had food and water, then let everyone back in. Somewhere in there, I put on pants and socks and a a shirt. Throughout my bustling, Nike slept in, as she does now, occasionally raising an eyebrow in my direction as I rushed through the room.

Finally, it was time to take Nike out and walk Oda. I called Nike out of her bed and she lurched to her feet and stumbled. I figured she wasn't all the way awake--these things happen when you get a bit older and sleep so very hard. She trotted ahead of me toward the Bestower of Ice Bones (the refrigerator/freezer) and wiped out in front of it. The floor is slick, and she got ahead of herself at the thought of Ice Bones first thing in the morning.

But she stumbles again on the way through the TV room. Something isn't right.

I catch up to her and steady her with a hand on her shoulders and we make it through the back door and off the porch and she stumbles again, her feet flail at the air, as though she is trying walk on a floor that isn't there. She lifts her feet high and throws them out to her left and right. She falls again.

This isn't right. Nike is the dog that flew

Nike, 22", trialing for her Sch2, around 2002, 1 meter wall

Reader, I lost it.

Right then and there, I burst into tears and sank to the step of the back stoop and wailed like a child who has lost her favorite blankie

Suddenly, I was facing a future of an old Nike, a feeble Nike, or soon, no Nike. And no matter how long the brain had known, has planned and expected, the heart was betrayed and shocked and unwilling.

Frost (Sch2) and Thorn (SchH3, CDX) -- my first two GSDs

There was a day about 7 months before Thorn's death when I knew what the course of his death would be. I knew what would take him and that it would be a long road away from me. That day, too, I wailed. I lost Frost unexpectedly and quickly, over the course of 24 hours. I said goodbye to Ashen before I had expected to, but that morning of his death, I had had a vision of him dying in my yard, nose deep in the grass, like dozing off in the sun. Somehow, I miss him more now than I did then--before it was grief, I guess, now I just miss him.

I will always have a bit of Nike and a bit of Ashen and a bit of Frost in my life--through their children and grandchildren. Lynx's joy in, well, everything is straight down from Ash. Macha's intelligence contains teasers of both Frost and Nike. Watching Blaze and Nash (Ilya and Inigo) work last week, I felt like I was with Ash again and I knew them well from the many hours I spent training for schutzhund with both of their parents.
Nike and Ash together


That morning two weeks ago, I was devastated by her inability to walk--not so much because I thought something fatal had happened to her, but because something fatal would happen to her. I knew that the most likely problem was a disruption of her vestibular system, which governs her balance and orientation to the world, but she didn't have the characteristic nystagmus (side to side or up and down eye movement) that I'd always heard about. I knew that most dogs recover well from vestibular problems. But perhaps something neurological had happened or she had a tumor that had suddenly destroyed her physical control. Perhaps she was permanently disabled? Perhaps I would lose her today. (Or not.)

The sudden comprehension of that reality was more than  I could bear right then. Instead of getting easier to part with my old dogs, it seems to get harder and harder with every one. The path we are on is familiar and the familiarity makes it easier to tread, but no easier to bear.

I regained (most of) my composure that Tuesday and called the vet and made an appointment for her. It is vestibular disease. She started on anti-nausea meds right away and stayed on them for 3 days, although they sedated her, so she slept a lot. After a week, she'd only improved moderately, so she was xrayed from head to tail. She has a bad inner-ear infection and is on antibiotics and prednisone and pain meds. And the good news is that her skull is clear of tumors and her heart is strong and healthy and her abdomen has only the normal lumpy bits. She should be around for years to come.

This morning, with Nike, I pause and watch her for a few seconds before I call her name. She sleeps so still, so deeply now, I am not always sure she breathes. But when she wakes, her eyes are bright and comprehending and she moves toward the door with clear intent.

She wants an ice cube, now please!

Nike, Dec 2010