Friday, January 25, 2013

Separation Whining and a Moment of Bliss

We have been blessed with dogs that do not suffer from separation anxiety, and little Remy shows no signs of developing it. He doesn't particularly relish being left in his crate when we step out of the house for a short time. He whines a bit at first (we listen from outside), but he quickly settles down to a nap. From day one, on the trip home from California, Remy has known that his crate is his safe place -- whether in the car, in the living room or in the bedroom. And when he's in it, he knows we will come back. I think this gives him comfort. It certainly did for Baxter and for Kirby starting from puppyhood.

Today's separation whining is mine. All mine. The dogs don't know I'm leaving for a couple of days.  My husband, Jamie, will be home to take care of them, so I'm not worried about that aspect.  He does the lion's share of the dog feeding, walking and puppy watching while I'm working upstairs in my home office during the day anyway (even though it has forced Jamie to adapt our kitchen into a makeshift art studio). I think they might miss me a little, dogs and husband, but I'm not really worried about that either. I will miss them all. And I rather look forward to the enthusiastic greetings I know I will receive when I get home.

No, this whining and vague hint of anxiety is about two things: 1) feeling guilty about leaving poor Jamie with 24/7 puppy duty for the whole weekend and 2) realizing that I've never been away from Remy for more than a few short hours at a time.

As I sit here on the sofa this morning, knowing I have a ton of things to do: packing, shopping, prepping food (this is a women's choir retreat and food is second only to music), I realize how very content I am to be here right now, in the early morning, sitting on the sofa writing on my laptop with little Remy curled up by my side chewing on a toy. He has positioned himself so that his back touches my elbow, like an extension of me. He feels me typing and I feel him chewing. This is bliss.

For me, sharing a quiet moment with a dog is often richer than sharing a quiet moment alone. There is a calmness that emanates from a dog -- even a puppy at times -- that is far more still and settled than my own, overly-busy mind. The dog brings a warmth, a solidity, a connection to the Earth that I, as a human, can too easily lose track of.  Right now, in this quiet, morning moment, Remy and I expect nothing of each other other than just being here.

And that is what I will miss the most this weekend.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Psych: Or Teaching Your Dog that Tooth Brushing is FUN

Kirby is living proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Well, a middle-aged dog, anyway. We're proud to say that we taught Kirby to "sit up" at the age of six. Not bad. And he does it extremely well with an artistic flair, a little cock of the head and off-kilter holding of the paws that makes him calendar-worthy. Seriously. It rivals the best "sit up" I've ever seen. But that's not what I'm most proud of...that would have to be the tooth brushing.

You see, we didn't start brushing Kirby's teeth on a daily basis until he was nearly six years old (detailed confessions below).  But now, I'm very proud to say, Kirby LOVES to have his teeth brushed. For us it had to be every day or it wouldn't happen. There's something about a daily routine that helps both the humans and the canines to get into the groove.

The thing that made all the difference was the combination of the psych factor and the poultry-flavored toothpaste: poultry-flavored toothpaste is a TREAT. Really, it is. It is a treat that is delivered via a long, plastic handle with bristles on the end, and it is lovingly distributed all around the mouth via the teeth. It is a TREAT that is lovingly given each night after the last trip to the yard. It is something to look forward to.

It took a few nights of letting Kirby just lick the toothpaste off a finger-brush to get the idea. Pretty soon we were working our way around the mouth (outsides of teeth only...I do value my fingers and the vet tells me the enzymes in the toothpaste still work their way around to the insides of the teeth, even if I can't get to them).  Now, each and every night, without interruption, Kirby runs inside and waits by the kitchen counter for his "brushy-brushy" treat.

On our recent visit to the veterinarian in December he exclaimed how clean Kirby's teeth were. I felt proud. Kirby couldn't have cared less, but he wagged his tail anyway. I think he was just angling for the vet to give him a treat. And yes, he did sit up, extraordinarily well.

Remy's first tooth brushing at 9 weeks... Now he sits upright for it.
We've started Remy out on the same protocol... and, at least as far as tooth-brushing is concerned, the model-rival teaching method is working LIKE A CHARM. Even though we know Remy's baby teeth will fall out in the next few months, we want Remy to believe that tooth-brushing is a TREAT. At the moment, anything Kirby considers a treat, Remy considers a treat, and he will protest until he gets some of whatever Kirby is getting. So each night, starting the week we brought him home, we have tortured poor Remy by making him watch (enthusiasm held in check by my husband holding a leash) as Kirby gets his "brushy brushy." Now Remy can't wait to have his little milk teeth brushed. I still can't use a regular toothbrush (he thinks it's a chew toy) but he loves having his gums massaged by the finger brush. For a soon-to-be-teething puppy, I think it's actually kind of a nice feeling.

Confession time. It wasn't always this way with the happy tooth-brushing in our household. I'm rather embarrassed to say that we didn't start brushing either Baxter's or Kirby's teeth when they were puppies. Despite advice from our veterinarian to "brush regularly," we waited too long and too loosely interpreted the word "regularly." By the time Baxter had his adult teeth, the entire process of tooth-brushing was so gut-wrenching, so fraught with drama and pathos (if you've ever seen a Griff looking both defiant and pathetic at the same time, you know exactly what I'm talking about...) we didn't have the heart or physical stamina to subject him to tooth brushing very often.

As Baxter aged and started getting more plaque build-up, we started brushing more often, but every attempt was a battle, so we didn't get very far. Kirby, taking his cue from big brother, resisted as well. Baxter never really did embrace the idea with any enthusiasm, and I'm sad to say that he left this world never having enjoyed a good tooth-brushing. Even with the poultry-flavored toothpaste.

After Kirby became the only dog, at age five-and-a-half, things changed....but not until we got our wake-up call. Kirby had had his teeth professionally cleaned a few years before, yet he had developed a lot of plaque in the following years, far more than Baxter ever had, and at a much faster rate. This summer, a few months after Baxter passed away, we took Kirby in for a recommended professional cleaning. They discovered that he had had two slab fractures on a couple of his upper molars -- vertical fractures that went all the way to the root. Apparently the fractures had been rather hidden by the plaque and the severity wasn't noted until after the teeth were clean. Kirby had been acting slow and sad, but we thought it was just part of his grieving over the loss of Baxter (and I'm sure some of it was). Because the teeth were so damaged, and likely painful for Kirby as well, our veterinarian recommended we have the teeth pulled.

Poor Kirby. We're not sure exactly how or when the fractures happened, but we think it was from chewing on some tasty sterilized cow bones that friends had given him. Kirby definitely had more anxiety than usual after Baxter passed away and he probably took some of it out on the bones...and his teeth. But how could we not have known?  In any case, two dog molars -- and a doggie dental bill that rivals the same procedure for a human -- later, we decided that doggie dental care would become a priority.

Today, Kirby is living testament that it's never too late to start brushing your dog's long as you apply some patience, psychology and poultry flavoring. And now, thanks to Kirby's trail-blazing, we're starting Remy off right for a life of pearly white teeth.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Blessed are the Squeakmakers

It often takes me a couple of days to finish a blog post, mostly because I'm spending most of my non-work time playing with Remy. (What a joyful way to put off getting anything done around the house!) Well, I'd been working on the previous post about Remy and Kirby and their almost non-stop wrestling when, yesterday morning, they had a rare moment of togetherness without any wrestling happening at all. Then it happened again yesterday evening after I had just spent time on the Griffology Facebook page engaging with other Griff owners for advice. Lo and behold, detente was achieved yet again this morning. Could it be that the act of committing something to Internet-published verbiage changes the behavior just to make my posts out of date?!? Whatever it is, I'll take it as a sign to keep on writing.

The latest truce happened, somewhat surprisingly, over some squeaky toys. Yesterday afternoon, a friend came over to meet Remy and she brought a couple of rubber squeaky toys as gifts, a little one for Kirby and a big one for Remy. Both dogs loved their squeakies and immediately launched into fits of running around and squeaking that made human conversation a tad challenging, but we all were so happy that they were happy, we just proceeded to yell over tea.

After a while, Kirby decided to take his squeaker toy upstairs to hide it (Kirby now asks to go upstairs). Later that afternoon Kirby brought his toy back down the stairs and deposited it just inside his side of the gate at the bottom of the stairs...right out of Remy's reach. Remy spent a long time -- as in at least 15 minutes -- reaching through the gate with his paws to try to get that little squeaky toy out. I'm shocked at the degree of focus he has for a 14-week-old puppy. Eventually we moved on to something else.

After dinner and Remy's evening nap in the crate (during which time Kirby, Jamie and I settled in for a movie) we let Remy out for another play session. This time Kirby was on the sofa with the big squeaker and Remy was on the floor. Remy immediately found the little squeaker and went about chomping on it, much to Kirby's chagrin. Despite having a perfectly good squeaky toy himself, Kirby could not stop obsessing over the fact that Remy had the little squeaker.

I'm not sure what prompted this behavior -- whether it was an act of Griffy kindness or just a random act of play -- but Remy looked up at Kirby staring down at him, then brought over the little squeaker, put his front legs up on the couch and deposited the little toy in front of Kirby. He then licked Kirby's chin and looked at Kirby sweetly. Was this a peace offering?  Kirby just sat there looking at the toy, then looking at Remy. I wasn't sure if Kirby was in a state of total dismay, if he was basking in his moment of superiority or if he was just happy to now have possession of his preferred squeaker. Remy waited a few moments, then gingerly slipped the big squeaker toy off the couch and took it over to the rug to play with it. I've never before considered that peace might sound like rubber squeaky toys, but, apparently, sometimes it does.

Kirby and Remy have had a couple of wrestling matches since, but much to my surprise and delight, the truce thing happened again this morning, when there was just one squeaker toy between the two dogs. Kirby, who is prone to resource-guarding at times, didn't even growl when Remy came over. And Remy, to his credit, didn't make a mad dodge for Kirby's toy. He just stood there, tail wagging, staring at his little big brother. Kirby started wagging his tail, then proceeded to sniff Remy from nose to tail. Once they finished sniffing each other, Kirby calmly picked up the little toy and asked to go upstairs. And that was that. Remy's now running around the living room by himself, squeaking his toy with joyful abandon.

Life is good.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Morning Choreography and Wishing for Another Boat

This morning we had a rare moment of peace while Remy and Kirby were in the same room, untethered. Well, it was somewhat enforced by the fact that rather than putting Remy in his crate, we tried tying him to the sofa to keep them separated until they both calmed down. At one point, when the two dogs were resting quietly, I unhooked Remy’s leash and the two managed to be within three feet of each other without wrestling for at least 10 minutes. That is a record.

Just yesterday, as I worked on this blog entry, I was thinking to myself that this obsessive wrestling thing just has to stop one of these days. I had hoped that by now that Remy and Kirby would be able to curl up next to each other and nap once in a while…or at least be able to sit next to each other for 15 seconds while I put their leashes on. Nope. Unless there is almost constant refereeing, every chance they get, they are having at it. Up the stairs. Under the sofa. Around the guests’ feet. So, most of the time, we still keep them segregated: Kirby gets full run of the house when Remy is in his crate and Kirby goes upstairs when Remy is loose. (We put a gate at the bottom of the stairs.)

This passion for wrestling is particularly annoying first thing in the morning when one spouse is trying to sleep. Due to Remy’s early morning potty call, Jamie and I have been taking turns so that we both aren’t entirely sleep-deprived. Jamie has, by far, taken the majority of morning outings, largely because I’m a more sound sleeper and he hears Remy’s rumblings first. That, and he’s just a really nice guy. But lately Jamie’s been fighting off a cold so I’ve been trying to let him sleep in.

Of course, first thing in the morning (which, for Remy, is the crack o’dark) the puppy is all recharged from a night in the crate and is ready for action. Jamie describes the choreography of getting Remy and Kirby outside and fed in the morning as being like the old puzzle of the farmer with the fox, the chicken and the corn trying to figure out how to get them all across the river when his boat is only big enough to take one at a time…

The morning scenario goes something like this:

Remy needs to go out first because he has the smallest bladder, but Kirby wants to go out too. If I take Remy out without Kirby, Kirby will whine and bark and wake up my spouse. If I take Kirby out by himself, then I have to leave Remy unattended in the house with a full bladder. If I put Remy back into his crate he will whine. If I try to put leashes on both Remy and Kirby at the same time, I have to put Remy’s on first then step on the leash before letting Kirby through the gate so I can keep Remy from jumping immediately into a wrestling match with Kirby, which makes putting on Kirby’s leash impossible. If I don’t let Kirby out of the gate, he starts whining and barking (remember, I’m trying to do all of this while making as little noise as possible). So I reach over the gate to put Kirby’s leash on, and if I take too long doing that, Remy sits by the door repeatedly ringing the bells (which is really a good thing). 

Once the leashes are on, I open the gate and let Kirby out. There is a moment of mayhem as I try to get both dogs through the door…Kirby goes first while I yard back Remy’s leash to keep him from jumping on Kirby on the way out the door. We walk with Kirby on a longer leash and hold Remy back just far enough to keep him from grabbing at Kirby’s flank hair. On rare mornings they will walk and sniff the trees together for up to 15 seconds at a time, but unless one of them is doing his business, it’s usually a constant effort to keep Remy from jumping on Kirby. 

As anyone who walks dogs knows, there are those moments when you need to get the poop bag out of your pocket, get the pesky thing open and over your hand ready for use. On a cold morning, fumbling with gloves and two leashes and a fresh bag that doesn’t want to separate at the top is always a chore. Doing this while keeping two dogs from wrestling and keeping myself from shouting at them and waking the neighbors at 5:30am takes it to a whole new level. The ballet moves involve stepping on Remy’s leash with one foot to keep him at a safe distance from both Kirby and the poo while lunging out with the other foot and reaching to pick up the aforementioned poo without letting go of either leash. Of course, this has to happen at least once for each dog without losing a glove, the poo or my mind. Sometimes Kirby just loses some hair. That’s the way it goes. If he doesn’t get out of the way, there’s only so much I can do.

Back on the home front, it’s time for breakfast. I want to feed Kirby first, because he is the elder dog. This is all but impossible if one is trying to maintain peace and quiet. If I put Remy in his pen while I’m working on the food, there will be howling. If I don’t put Remy in the pen, he will eat Kirby’s food. Kirby is afraid of the sound of the metal pen when Remy jumps up on the side of it. Kirby runs upstairs. Remy gets his food first. Remy sits quietly at my feet watching me prepare the food and pour water into the bowls. The look on his little face is so sweet and innocent I just want to hug and kiss him and it’s hard to believe he is anything but perfect. 

I take Remy’s water and food over to his pen and give him the sit and stay commands while I set the bowls down. Remy actually does this now, which is pretty great. When I give the OK he launches into the pen, I shut the door, put down Kirby’s food and call Kirby back downstairs. They both gobble down their food. As soon as Remy starts jumping on the side of the pen, Kirby runs upstairs. I close the stairway gate and let Remy out. We have a few minutes of blissful quiet as Remy pads around, plays with his toys and lets me rub his tummy. Remy stations himself at my feet while I read or write on my laptop. Pretty soon Kirby decides he wants to be downstairs with us. He knows what will happen, yet he sits behind the gate and whines. Pretty soon the whines turn into barks (after all the effort to remain quiet, this is what usually wakes up the spouse).  Now I have three choices: put Remy back into his crate and let Kirby out (which makes Remy whine and bark), keep Remy out and let Kirby whine and bark at the gate (either of which will wake up my spouse and by this point I’m too tired and frustrated to care) or just let Kirby out and play referee as the two of them duke it out in the living room. None of these sound like good options at 6am. It amazes me that Jamie manages to do this a majority of the time without waking me up. Whether that’s a testament to my deep sleeping habits or his ability to execute the morning dance more effectively we may never know, but I’m thankful for it.

We don’t know how much refereeing we should be doing during these wrestling matches between Remy and Kirby. At nearly 14 weeks, Remy is now taller than Kirby, but Kirby still has the bigger teeth and adult strength. Kirby knows exactly what it takes to get Remy off of him (a yelp and a snap usually do the trick), yet he seldom does it. He dashes under the sofa, knowing full well that Remy is still small enough to get under there with him, and the two just roll around on their backs kicking at each other with their front paws and chewing on each other’s faces. Occasionally Kirby will make a break for it and run around the living room with Remy in hot pursuit. But it almost always ends up under the sofa. When I’m sitting on top, it sounds (and feels) like there are two wild animals under there, scratching and bumping and making little growly noises. 

These wrestling matches don’t just happen in the morning. They pretty much happen any time Remy and Kirby are together. Remy is the instigator at least 80% - 90% of the time. But it’s surprising to me — for how miserable Kirby seems when he’s being mauled by the puppy — just how often Kirby instigates it. It almost seems like he wants to wrestle. Yet, after a bit, he starts looking desperate and makes a mad dash for the upstairs, hoping that one of the humans will close the gate behind him. We worry about Kirby sometimes because these wrestling matches seem to wear him out. But Kirby’s level of agitation at being separated from the family seems even harder on him at times. 

What surprises me most is that still, to this day, there has been no bloodshed, no major squealing in pain, from either of them. Remy still manages to pull out wads of Kirby’s hair. Kirby has had various parts of Remy in his teeth many times and never clamps down enough to hurt the puppy. Like a good big brother, he knows just how far he can go without making his little brother cry. But like a naughty big brother, Kirby also knows how to lord his power over the little guy. This happens whenever Remy is being restrained in any way and Kirby is free. For example, over the holidays, when Remy’s leash was tied to a chair so we could keep track of him during a family game of Trivial Pursuit, Kirby (who had free run of the entire house) stationed himself 2” from the limit of Remy’s reach and proceeded to play with his toys. When Remy is in his crate, Kirby goes out of his way to get a toy and sit right in front of the door of the crate to play with it, just out of Remy’s reach. Yeah, sometimes Kirby is asking for it.

I don’t blame Kirby for wanting to get one up on the little guy. After all, he was here first. But I can't help remembering how much grief he gave Baxter when Kirby was a pup and feeling like Kirby does have a little of that coming back at him. At least Kirby, like Baxter, seems well aware that he should not physically hurt the puppy. I’m just wondering when the gloves will come off and if, by that time, Remy will be so big that Kirby no longer has an advantage. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

In the meantime, if segregation is the only way to maintain some semblance of peace in the house, so be it...even if that means both Jamie and I get up at the crack o’dark (which is sort of like taking the fox, chicken and corn across in two boats...)

Friday, January 04, 2013

Puppy Yin and Yang

While it’s tempting to write about all the crazy antics of puppyhood, it bears mentioning now and again that every puppy has moments where he or she behaves like a perfect little adult. We’ve experienced this a lot with Remy in the last week. He lies down on my feet while I write on my laptop or he stations himself on a nearby rug to nap while my husband is working on art projects at the table. He pads around the house, looks out the windows, plays quietly with his toys and doesn’t chew on anyone’s shoes. These are times of bliss and they all occur when Kirby is upstairs and Remy is downstairs with one or both of us. When he is the only dog among humans, Remy is remarkably mellow. 

I’m also really proud of the little guy for passing a couple of challenging tests over the New Year’s holiday. We had guests over for two days in a row, and each day the coffee table was covered with bowls of sweet and savory goodies to munch on. Needless to say, with a puppy around, either Jamie or I always had one eye on Remy just to make sure he stayed out of trouble. I’m both surprised and exceedingly pleased to say that Remy never once made a grab for anything on the table, all of which was easily within his reach. (We’ve been challenging Remy around food on the coffee table for weeks…at this point I’m pretty certain the little guy thinks his middle name is “NO, OFF!” but he seems to get the picture…knock wood.) 

Remy passed another test during New Year’s dinner when we humans were busy chatting at the table and not paying much attention to what the puppy was doing. Suddenly I heard the little jingle of Remy’s dangling door bells. I turned around and there he was, sitting sweetly and patiently next to the door waiting to go outside. Perfect. I was so proud. He’s been using his door bells pretty consistently, but most of the time we are watching him while he’s out and about the house. This was his first test of freedom while the humans were quite distracted and he passed with flying colors. A perfect little Griff demo puppy for the guests.

I’m not sure what, if any, definitions there are for “yin” or “yang” specific to dog behavior, but the concept does pretty well capture the way of the puppy, the duality of the little angel and the little devil somehow residing inside of the same adorable little creature. He plays with seemingly boundless energy then moments later he’s lying on his back snoring. He does something extraordinary and I’m convinced we are living with a little canine genius, then five minutes later I’m pulling a rock out of his mouth. He behaves like a little adult when he is alone with the humans, then unleashes his inner hyena when Kirby enters the room. (In fact, even the symbol for yin/yang is a pretty good visual representation of what Kirby and Remy look like whenever they are in a room together… a swirling, twirling mass of scruffy hair held together by tooth and claw, with the occasional eyeball peeking out at what’s going on around them. It's happening right now beneath the sofa where I'm sitting, as a matter of fact...) 

It’s all part of that wonderful, yet tiring, period of puppy discovery — the little guy explores his world and we get to explore the limits of our patience as we experience those ups and downs with him. It takes a lot of energy, but it is entirely worth it. We get lots of kisses and snuggles and sweet puppy breath. We take pictures and videos and spend time playing fetch instead of watching TV. We laugh constantly at his clownish antics. And we cherish all of these things because we know that puppyhood is fleeting. At least, with Remy being a Griff, we have the comfort of knowing that the clowning will continue into adulthood. 

As we kick off this new year, I am looking forward to many things, and having the opportunity to raise Remy through his puppyhood is one of the big ones.