Friday, November 13, 2009

What is Now, Won't Always Be

I struggle to see shades of gray. It is a long held and detrimental flaw of mine.

I think the world should follow a certain set of rules. I think that good in should equal good out. I think that everyone has the same moral compass as I do.

Thinking this way causes a lot of disappointment.

It also makes it hard for me to see beyond my current circumstances. I forget that things do change or maybe I am just convinced that things change for other people but not for me.

Thinking this way causes a lot of bad expectations.

Finnegan was not a pleasant puppy. We do not have pictures of him conked out on the living room floor or curled up in one of our laps. We do, however, have lots of pictures of him biting things. He was a vicious little vampire puppy.

He was also not what I would call affectionate. He took love on his terms. He was not a puppy who asked to be pet. He was not interested in snuggling up next to you and watching television, which was disappointing considering part of the reason we chose to get an Australian Shepherd was because they have a reputation as velcro dogs.

We had come to accept these things about Finn and to embrace the great characteristics he did have. He's always wildly happy to see you and greets you with a waggling rear. He's extraordinarily friendly with strangers and patient and kind to toddlers. These things were more than enough for us and even though we were a little sad that Finn would only hang out with us on the couch if we bribed him with a rawhide, we were also very appreciative of all the good things about him.

Then one day he decided that he liked us after all. Suddenly he was nudging against us. Squirting his head through the crook of our elbows when we knelt down. Smacking us with his paw when we stopped petting him. Walking up to us and giving us sweet eyes when both of us are on the couch together and he's not (I'd really like to know how he senses two butts on the couch, it's uncanny) .

Lately, Finn has reminded me that things do change. That the seemingly impossible can happen. Lately, Finn has been snuggling up against me on the couch, flopping his head on my feet and falling asleep.

Ryan and I look at each other and say, Can you believe this is happening? Do you see this? Our hearts grow and our eyes get misty and our heads nearly explode with the cuteness of it.

It makes me believe; it forces me to acknowledge that life moves on. It's easy to wallow in the belief that nothing changes and nothing gets better. It's really damn hard to believe good things will happen; that your wildest dreams come true. It's hard and it's scary to believe these things because what if it's not true? What if you put yourself out there and made yourself vulnerable and everything is still bad?

I guess at that point you have to believe you haven't reached the end. That you're still in the middle of your journey to get to some other place. You have to hold on to the belief that even the most vicious, blood thirsty puppies one day grow up to be cuddly, sweet feet warmers.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Puppy: Uncrated

Finn is one year old now. One of the ways we are celebrating his first steps out of puppyhood is by starting the uncrate training process. Crate training him was a piece of cake. He loves his crate. He’s never really complained about being in there. When he’s tired, even mentioning the word “bed” out of context sends him galloping up the stairs to his room.

The problem was we felt that he was spending way too much time in his crate. He would come out, have some breakfast and then lead the way back to his bed. Later he would come out again, take a walk or go to the dog park, have some dinner and then be ready to have us put him back in again. After a nap, he’d come out again to sit on the couch and chew on a bone while we watched evening tv.

This wasn’t really working for us for a couple of reasons. First, we felt guilty. Second, he was rambunctious and annoying every time he got out of his crate because, I guess, he wanted to make the most of his freedom. Third, one of the big reason we got Finn in the first place was to have a velcro dog; a dog who would, amiable and companionably, trot along after us and accept loving pets whenever he passed us by.

So, if everyone wanted the same thing, then why couldn’t we just make it happen? We had a pretty major problem: Finn couldn’t sleep outside his crate. He rarely even put his head down. When he did, he would pop it back up, refusing to admit that he might have been even the slightest bit tired. We began to suspect that he was being disobedient just to be sent to his bed (crate) so he could get some sleep.

One day, I just decided to break the cycle. I made up my mind that no matter how annoying or aggravating or infuriating Finn was, he would spend the entire day out of his crate.

We took a nice, long, three-mile walk on the greenway (for some Aussies three miles wouldn’t be considered long, but it is for Finn) and then we came home and he roamed around in the backyard while I read a book. He probably also played some soccer with Ryan. We basically gave him no choice but to have to put his little head down and nap.

And he did. Very briefly. By the end of the day he was red-eyed and exhausted and thrilled to eat his Milkbone and collapse in his crate. The next day, we did the same thing. And every day after that.

Now, when he’s tired, he just lies down. He’s even fallen asleep on the couch a few times. He’s fantastic to be around and far more mellow than when he was only out in shorter bursts.

Of course, new problems have cropped up. He’s in a horrific counter-surfing stage at the moment. However, for every major issue we’ve resolved with him I become more confident that we can handle the new problems that will inevitably arise.

For now, all I have to say is, Yay, to tired puppies!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Disregard the Previous Enthusiasm

The excitement of Finn's new milestone has worn off and now I feel like I'm living with one of those happy, goofy yellow labs from movies who will never leave you alone until you throw the slobbered on tennis ball that's in his mouth. Except Finn isn't really happy or goofy when he has the slobbered on tennis ball in his mouth and he has no intentions of giving up that tennis ball without you playing a highly dangerous game of tug first.

Using a tennis ball to play tug with a highly focused and competitive Australian Shepherd puppy will cost us all or part of a digit one day, I'm sure of it. It's not that he would mean to bite our pointer finger off, he'll just be trying to jostle for a better grip.

Don't play tug with him, you say? Well okay but then we'll be subject to very wet nudges. There's nothing that evokes feelings of comfort and safety like a dog chewing a ball against your thigh-- while you're wearing shorts. Now substitute that tennis ball with a floppy and disemboweled stuffed chewie and the fun is really starting.

All of that aside, it really is a fun, albeit slighting annoying, time in his puppyhood. He's constantly learning better coordination and is becoming a champ at catching tennis balls in the air. He seems to be up for anything, as long as it's in short bursts. Take him for a 3 mile walk and you'll be dragging him behind you by the end.

I really could do without being chewed against though.

And perhaps we should have thought twice about buying those squeaky KONG tennis balls.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Initiating Play

Finn has begun to ask us to play with him. We've been playing soccer and Frisbee with him a lot more since a 15 minute session will tire him out quite quickly in North Carolina's heat and humidity. He still doesn't understand the concept of "give" or "drop it." Instead he'll crash into you with the Frisbee or soccer ball in his mouth and keep nudging it against your knee until you engage him. Unfortunately, he has a new obsession with tug so it's not likely he'll learn to politely give us the toy anytime soon.

In the house, he'll grab a tennis ball and nudge us in the same way. Then he'll dance and circle around us trying to get in a quick game of tug before a short run of fetch. Then it starts all over again.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Changing Puppy Face

Finn's getting neutered tomorrow which, to me, is a huge milestone. It's made me want to go back and revisit his very young puppyhood. He's such a cutie and I can't wait to see what kind of dog he becomes.

Friday, April 3, 2009

It's Not All About the Puppy Mills

The news last month regarding the Petland lawsuit hit close to home because we bought our puppy, Finn, from the Petland in Charlotte. I’ve read blog posts, tweets and articles about the case and I feel like everyone has chosen the most sensational aspect of the lawsuit to highlight, not the most important.

I think we can all agree that puppy mills are bad. No one wants or condones that kind of lifestyle for dogs and puppies. However, not every Petland puppy comes from a puppy mill. Ours didn’t; ours came from a breeder who I have spoken with. This fact did not keep Finn from being a very, very sick puppy.

Not every breed of dog can be found locally and I understand that sometimes pet stores need to have dogs brought to them from far away but it would seem that it would be possible to do this without sacrificing the health of the puppy. Measures could be put in place and, at the very least, Petland could be upfront about the health of the puppies they sell.

When we purchased Finn, we were told that he was in good health but that was not true. We were told during our long and thorough information session that sneezing and runny noses were common for puppies and should not be a cause for concern should we notice these things in Finn.

We did notice these symptoms in Finn during only his second day home with us but we brushed them off as we were told to do. By the morning of his first vet visit, 10 days after purchase, I called to move his appointment time up to 8:30 from 3:00 because the crackling/rattling sound coming from his little chest scared me.

At one point, Finn was diagnosed with kennel cough, two parasites and roundworms and was on three different forms of antibiotics as well as receiving nebulizer treatments.

When Finn’s kennel cough relapsed, we found out that Petland administers nebulizer treatments to their puppies every morning. Petland knew their puppies were sick. They knew that even if Finn was not actively sick at the time they sold him, he had been exposed to a highly contagious and dangerous virus and yet they not only did not inform us, they dissuaded us from being vigilant about our puppy’s health.

Sending home sick puppies to unsuspecting owners is Petland’s must egregious act. It is easy to only focus on puppy mills because of their dramatic and sensational slant but Petland—even a Petland strongly positioned against the mills—is not blameless in how they care for, and merchandise, their puppies.

Finn’s poor health was not a result of puppy mills. Not every breed of dog can be found locally and some dogs will need to be shipped, but Petland and their “middleman,” in our case it was Pet Board of Trade not Hunte, could make changes to guarantee the delivery of healthy puppies.

Over the next week, I’ll be writing here in more detail about our Petland experience.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Finn's Progress

Two nights ago, a friend’s dog bit Finn on the mouth. The dog was standing near Ryan and Finn went over to be closer to him and in the process leaned over to give the other dog a sniff and she growled, barred her teeth and bit him.

Finn let out a hurt puppy yelp, ran to the middle of the room and kind of stood there for a moment smacking his lips and processing what had just happened. I grabbed his leash (he always has it on when he’s out of his crate) and kind of steered him toward me to make sure he wasn’t hurt. After allaying my fears, I let him go and he wandered off to play with his toys.

It wasn’t a big deal but it made me realize how proud I am of Finn and of us. We thought Finn was going to be an aggressive, dominant dog. We thought he would be a struggle to train and a real handful to live with. Instead, Finn is loving and social and has trained incredibly well.

Finn never mouthed us-- he bit us. When we first played with him, before we bought him, Finn chewed on us. Ohh, he’s teething, the sellers chuckled. And we laughed along because look at the little furball trying to chew on Ryan’s shoe, Ryan’s finger, Ryan’s face. We brought him home and he wouldn’t play with us, he would bite us. It was the only way he expressed emotion. Finn was happy to see us so he would nip at our hands. Finn was frustrated by a toy so he would growl and attack our legs. Finn wanted to go back to his crate so he would try to take a chunk out of our nose.

It was awful and I resented him for it. The biting made it hard for me to bond with him. I am truly grateful for our trainer because he taught us how to handle Finn. We learned how to correct him and how to become the leader. All of our hard work and patience has paid off because he is a rather obedient puppy. He rarely bites us anymore and when he does it’s never with any force or intent.

We knew that we were successful when we witnessed Finn’s first encounters with other dogs. He was outgoing and confident but also submissive and quick to back down when other dogs were aggressive toward him.

The dog that bit him has never liked Finn. She is possessive and intolerant and quick to defend her space. No one has ever really told her that her hostile behavior is unacceptable and so she persists. Finn was a victim of that hostility but he did not take it as a challenge. He backed down and distracted himself with something else.

At one point we were afraid that Finn would be the biting dog. We worried that we would never be able to assert our dominance and position as leader. In the past two months we have all made great strides and I am loving the dog Finn is becoming. You never know how a puppy might change as they grow and gain experience but I hope that we are always willing to put in the work to make him the best dog he can be.

That being said…

Obviously, he’s not perfect; he still has things he needs to work on. Just today he put his paws up on the coffee table, knocked over an old mug of tea, soaked himself and then proceeded to jump up on the couch with tea soaked paws and shake off, spraying the couch, laptop…everything. It looked like a CSI scene.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Finn at 5 Months

Finn turned 5 months old on the 18th. Here are some of his milestones:

This is Finn in his "place" chewing on a turtle.
  • Finn sleeps until 6:30am most days. We wake him up for a potty break at midnight, he wakes us up with a bark sometime during the 6 o’clock hour, he eats his breakfast and sometimes goes for a walk and goes back to sleep until around 10 (later if he went to the dog park the day before, not so late if not).
  • He eats ¾ cup of food, three times a day.
  • He is walking well on the leash and no longer pulls unless there is a dog or person he’d like to visit with.
  • He is incredibly social with both dogs and people.
  • He’s lost most of his baby teeth and rarely nips or mouths us.
  • He is still very, very chewy though and most recently chewed the window molding through his crate. Thanks to crate training, window moldings are the only things he’s damaged in our house.
  • He still rides in a crate while in the car.
  • He’s just beginning to get coarse fur along his spine but still has puppy fur everywhere else. He’s beginning to get much fluffier on his neck, legs and tail.
  • His favorite toy are the cheap Frisbees I buy for him at Target and WalMart. He doesn’t understand that he’s supposed to bring them back to me but he loves to chase them down and then carry them off to chew.
  • He knows the following commands: sit, stay, come, down, up, wait, shake, high five, fist bump, roll over, bang, and place.
  • He sits in his “place” before meals and waits patiently for us to give our OK to eat. I’ve been using this time to empty the dishwasher.
  • He eats anything that is organic and on the ground, ie sticks, bark, flower buds, seed pods, etc.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Finn: The Bully?

And on the fifth day, the clouds parted and the sun appeared.

Finally, after four days straight of rain and cold and just plain ickiness the sun finally came out. In the last few days Finn has gotten increasingly restless. Combine cabin fever with puppy teething and you get one aggravated puppy dog. We tried to keep him active by playing Frisbee with him up in Ryan’s office but nothing tires him out quite like running amuck and wrestling around in the dog park.

Today we swore, not matter the muddy collateral damage, we would take him to the park. Finn had his last lesson with our trainer, Cody, at two this afternoon so he wasn’t entirely bursting with energy. You wouldn’t have known that, however, if you could have seen him at the dog park. He was out of control. Our sweet, quiet puppy turned into a sweet, very vocal dog this afternoon. I don’t know what got into him.

Seeing ten or so people in the small dog park, we headed there first. Usually Finn sniffs around, hangs back, greets the people first and then will find a few dogs to play with. He almost always lets other dogs instigate the play.

The difference today is that there were some very young puppies in the park. Very young, like, 10-weeks-old young. Because they were puppies and naturally playful they would approach Finn and bat at him and Finn would…roll them over.

Of course, the reason Finn rolled them is because these puppies had no muscle tone yet. Older dogs would have just swayed and then grabbed hold of Finn’s ear but these puppies went done like a WalMart worker on Black Friday.

To top it off, Finn was being unusually vocal. Generally, he does not do a lot of growling and barking but these puppies today were very vocal, which prompted Finn to growl as he wrestled with them. The whole thing combined made Finn come off as a bully and it was kind of embarrassing.

We finally left after he started taking down this quite small shepherd mix. The owner didn’t seem to care but it made us uncomfortable as the pairing was clearly unmatched. At one point, I knelt down to pet the shepherd mix and the puppy nearly fell over at the pressure of my hand. I asked the owner how old the puppy was and she said five months. I know I’m new to this whole dog thing but there is no way that puppy was five months old. Finn will be five months old tomorrow and the differences are enormous.

Anyway, the whole thing left me feeling uneasy. Should we only take him to the big park now (as opposed to the “small dog” park)? Is he starting to get a little aggressive? Was it just a different group of dogs there that Finn wasn’t familiar with? Was he just too amped up after having spent four days straight in the house?

Ryan’s answer to all of this was, “It’s just like when you have kids. Sometimes they embarrass you and it’s frustrating because you know they are better behaved than how they acted. He’ll probably be fine the next time.”

Still, I worry.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mother's Approval

I am my mother’s only daughter.

When my mom and I are at a mall, she will point to a stroller and tell me, that’s the kind you should get. When we are at Home Goods, she runs her fingers along the railings of beautifully ornate cribs and says, I’m going to put aside money so I can buy this for you. Once, at Costco, she held up a onesie with turtles parading across the front and asked me to divine whether I would have a spring baby or a winter baby.

She isn’t pressuring me to have kids, which is good because after five plus years, Ryan and I aren’t even married yet. She’s simply daydreaming about the day that her daughter has a child and all of the advice and clothes and baby paraphernalia that she’s been holding back will come crashing forward.

“It’s different when your daughter has a child,” she tells me after visiting my brother’s twin daughters. “When you have your baby, I won’t hold back.”

I remember thinking, awesome, more incentive not to have kids anytime soon. I envisioned always getting unwanted advice and always being worried that I was doing the wrong things.

My parents came to visit this weekend. It was only their second time meeting Finn and it went really well. He was, as always, his cute, sweet, charming self. My mom, who seemed reserved the first time she met Finn, really seemed to enjoy being around him.

Over the course of the weekend, Mom kept commenting on how smart Finn was and how pretty he was and how well behaved he was. And every time she marveled at how well he preformed tricks or how well he listened to us it gave me a little jolt of pride. My mom was telling me that I was doing a good job at raising our puppy and she was doing so freely.

I’m not sure why it surprised me. Maybe because she’s been so adamant about how critical she would be of how I would raise a child or maybe because Finn is my first dog and I’m a little insecure about how I’m doing with it. Either way, it made me realize that I had my mom figured out wrong.

I’m sure that when it comes time, she will be the first to tell me that I need to hold my baby’s neck more or that I should dress the baby warmer in the winter but she will also be the first to tell me that I’m doing a good job. She will tell me how sweet my child is and how smart my child is.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


There are many things that I want that I don’t have. Some of the things I want are goals that I’ve been working toward but can’t seem to achieve. Some things are material and aren’t really that important. Some things are beyond my control and better not to wish for at all.

I have a hard time accepting that I can’t always make things happen. That hard work doesn’t always result in getting want you want. I take disappointment hard. I often get defeated.

I worried about how that would affect me as a mother. Mothers should have patience; infinite reservoirs of patience that would allow them to parent without damaging their child with the burden of expectations.

Having a dog is not the same as having a child. I am not one of those dog owners. It has, however, helped me work on some of the attributes that I believe make a good parent. I like to teach Finn things. Being an Australian Shepherd, he likes to learn, it provides him with the mental stimulation that he needs to tire himself out.

Finn is stubborn though, much like I am. He likes to do things on his time schedule, which means that for two days straight he’ll act like he doesn’t understand the concept of shake and on the third morning he offers you his paw like he was born knowing how.

During our training sessions, I watch him for signs of frustration or boredom. I’m beginning to learn when to push a little more and when to reward him for something he already knows how to do and send him on his way. When testing him on a new command without offering a treat, I watch his muscles react. His muscles betray his thoughts. They give away his secret desire to perform the command.

I’ve learned to be patient and steady, repeating the command until he performs or has reached his limit of patience. It’s not that I don’t want to push or yell at him OHMYGODJUSTROLLOVERALREADY because I do. I really, really do sometimes. But I understand that it doesn’t really help anything. It doesn’t get us to where we want to be.

I’m not sure if I’m so far along that I can apply these lessons to human interactions, but it’s a step and I’m giving myself credit for that. If I can forgive Finn for not mastering “roll over” in the time that I have arbitrarily deemed necessary to learn it, maybe I can forgive myself for all of the things I have yet to accomplish.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

March Snow

A few days ago we got one of those March snows I loved so much when I was college. Here, where we don't get an awful lot of snow to begin with, snow in March is winter's last gift. Unlike in colder climates, snow is not terribly bothersome here. It rarely sticks around long enough to turn into gray, murky slush. You almost never need to shovel because everything in the city comes to a screeching halt at the slightest threat of snow, so no one is going anywhere. Your only responsibilities are to toss something cozy in the crock pot, brew up some hot cocoa and enjoy the spectacle.

Snow in March is only a reminder of the season that has nearly passed. This weekend it will be 72. The trees have already started to bloom. In a few weeks, the empty spaces left by bare branches will begin to close up. Fresh, nearly translucent green will be abundant. The tulips, planted with hope in February, will push all the way up, bringing with them promises fulfilled.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

PetSmart Interupted

My brother had a dog named Riley. It was his first dog and a rescue dog. Riley came with some baggage. He was very possessive of his things-- stray ice cubes, food, toys, tennis balls.

One Friday in the Spring, Mark came home from work and played a game of fetch with Riley. Often when you have a dog that doesn’t understand the concept of fetch or who just refuses to give up the ball, you are given the advice to play two or three ball fetch with him. This means that if the dog refuses to give up the ball, that’s fine, just throw him another one. The dog will often catch on and will drop the ball he has in his mouth to run after the one you have just thrown. From there you can build on the concept and eventually play fetch the old-fashioned way.

Instead of dropping the ball to chase after a new one or running off with the old ball and dropping it when he got to the freshly thrown ball, Riley tried to fit all of the tennis balls in his mouth. By the time Mark realized what was happening the balls had become lodged in Riley’s throat and he was suffocating.

Riley died in my brother’s arms on the way to the animal hospital.

My brother and his wife had hired a dog trainer to work with Riley in their home. When Riley died they had extra sessions that they were not able to use. They eventually bought another dog but had by that time moved to Louisville. When they heard about Finn, Mark’s wife offered to transfer their extra sessions to us.

This is how we came to know Cody. Cody began to work with Finn when he was eleven weeks old. Several factors combined to make Cody a lifesaver to us. First, Finn was a terrible biter when he was small and Cody really salvaged our relationship with Finn. Second, Finn had such a nagging and relapsing case of kennel cough that we couldn’t take him to normal puppy classes. Cody has worked with us on all of the basic commands plus leash training and a couple of brain games.

At a little over four months Finn performs well at home. Now that he is fully vaccinated we have taken him out amongst the germs and people and overall he is doing well. Finn’s main problem is that he is such a friendly dog that the air generated from his flapping nub of a tail practically levitates him every time he sees a person (especially kids) or dog. It starts with the tail waging and ends in pulling on his leash to the point that he sounds like an asthmatic in a very dusty, confined room.

Obviously, our dog needs some additional exposure to people and their pets. We thought that he might benefit from some time in a group training class. So, after talking with some people at the park and an advanced call to PetSmart, we went over there today at the appointed time. We signed up, handed over our money and then five minutes later were told that the class was canceled and could we come back on Sunday. I was disappointed to not be starting that day and displeased that there was not more disclosure up front. I’ll wait until Sunday to make any further judgments.

Friday, February 27, 2009


We bought Finn at a pet store. Believe me, I have already heard enough opinions on this. We have even discussed the idea of just telling people we bought him through a breeder to avoid the comments and looks. Maybe I perceive the looks, maybe no one really cares where we bought Finn but it sure feels like they do.

The simple explanation is that we had never owned a dog or even really been around dogs growing up. We were totally new to the whole thing. We wanted someone to hold our hands through it and tell us exactly what we needed.

We’d been stalking puppies at Petland since Halloween with no real intention to buy one. And then one day we did.

This iPhone picture was taken during our first play session with Finn at Petland.

I was shocked to find that it takes hours to buy a puppy. I don’t think they prepare new parents as well as they prepare new puppy owners. Petland includes in the purchase price of the dog a “welcome home” kit. The kit includes everything you would need for your puppy during the first few weeks and beyond: a crate that will fit him as an adult, food, treats, toys, nail clippers, shampoo, tooth brush, etc, etc. They go through the whole kit with you and explain how to properly use everything. They give you step-by-step instructions on how to feed him, groom him, potty train him. They explain what is a medical emergency and what is not. On top of that, you can call them anytime if you have any questions or problems with the dog. It was reassuring to feel like we had some kind of backup system.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that Finn was not a healthy puppy. He was very sick for the first month or so that we had him. In the far future, if we buy another dog, I’m not sure if we’d go to a pet store. They were what we needed as first time buyers, but we are more knowledgeable now and more sure of ourselves.

It’s clear though, that they care about their animals. When we bought Finn we were stopped no less than three times on our way out of the fairly small store as employees wanted to say goodbye to the little puppy that was only there for a short time. When we’d come in later to buy puppy food, Mike, the guy who sold us Finn, would stop us, and ask about Finn by name. It was a caring atmosphere.

Today at the puppy park, we ran into Mike and his dog. Finn definitely seemed to remember his short time in Mike’s care as he ran up to him, put his paws on his shoulders and gave him a vigorous face licking. Which, as everyone knows, is Finn language for “you’re one of my favorites.” It was sweet and it solidified in our minds that we did make the right choice buying him from a pet store, or at least that specific pet store.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The puppy version of slamming doors

Finn is 4 months old (18 and a half weeks) and he is beginning to only selectively listen to certain commands. We taught Finn the command “go to your bed” at around 10 weeks. Before then, we were picking him up and basically shoving him in his crate. That method worked fine with a small puppy but one day I had a flash forward to us trying to manually maneuver a head-strong, 30 pound adolescent puppy into his crate. Having gotten over the horror of that vision, I started to work with him on the new command right away.

First, we held a treat in front of his nose and led him to his crate while saying, “go to your bed.” Then we moved up to tossing a treat in his crate and then giving him the verbal command. It didn’t take long after that for him to obey only the verbal command. He knew the payoff was coming because, after going into his crate on verbal command only, we always gave him a treat through the crate bars while saying, “good boy, good go to your bed.”

He got really, really good at this command. He would bounce across the room, fling himself into his crate and eagerly await his reward. He was a rock star at the “go to your bed” command. He had “go to your bed” groupies. There was even a dance.

And then one day, not so much anymore.

When we gave him the command, he would turn away from us, look forlornly toward the exit and hold his ground. If we went over to him and picked up his leash, he would walk on his own toward and into his crate but he would no longer go only on our command.

Today I realized that he would actually still go to his crate on my command but he has to have time to pout about it first. Basically, I have to say the command, and nothing else, repeatedly. I also have to give lots of pause in between each repetition of the command. Finn is an Australian Shepherd, which means he’s bold, confident and stubborn by nature. In between each command I could see him weighing his options. He was quietly deciding whether he wanted to obey me.

Although it’s annoying to have to patiently guide him to make the right decision, I have a feeling this practice is building our bond. The fact that he is giving in and doing something he doesn’t want to do proves to me that he respects me. I’m not forcing him or being pushy, I’m just calmly and evenly persisting.

Still, I hope he grows out of this phase quickly because I am a human and by nature not the most patient creature.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Street Legal

Finn recently finished up all of his vaccinations, which means that we can finally take him out in the world. I worried about all of the socialization that he wasn’t getting. All of the books and websites tell you how it’s essential that puppies get socialized during the 2-4 month period. At the same time they tell you to not take puppies anywhere that strays may roam, which includes, parks, pet stores, your neighborhood, shopping centers--- pretty much anywhere besides your home.

In the end, we took him very few places. We went on walks around the neighborhood while we tried to leash train him and once we took him to a group class held by our trainer at a local park. I think we would have ventured out more had he been a healthy puppy but he was very sick for the first month and a half that he was with us. All of those vet visits, however, did cure him of his dislike of car rides.

Even under normal circumstance we would have been counting down the days until his final vaccination but now even more so. Last week Finn finally got to go to the dog park for the first time. We were so much more excited than him.

He did a great job. Our local dog park is split in two; one for under 20 pounds and one for over 20 pounds. On his first trip there, the under park had only one very small dog in it so we ventured to the large dog area. He loved being off leash and held his ground nicely around the big dogs. He’ll eventually be a big dog so it probably doesn’t hurt to have him around his future peers.

Our trainer tried to tell us that Finn was an aggressive dog but we have learned that aggressive is not the right word. Finn can be stubborn and obstinate but he’s also confident and bold—two important traits of his bread. No matter how many times he was run over by the big dogs, he still approached them to play. It was nice to see how submissive he became when it was clear he was being dominated. Even when he plays with smaller dogs, he will go into the down position because he’s aware that while they are taking swipes at him, he should not swipe back. Maybe when he’s older we’ll see more signs of aggression but right now he is a friendly, good-spirited puppy.