Puppy Progression

Her name is Toner.

And, yes, I do mean toner as in the bottle you slide into the front of a copy machine when it stops printing and demands you replace it before it will finish printing your job (usually with less than 5 sheets remaining).

We went back and forth on a few names. We were getting a female Chocolate Lab puppy and planned to surprise the kids. In all honesty, we wanted to name the puppy before we picked it up because if we allowed input from the kids we’d end up with a name like “Brownie” or “Spot”, even though she doesn’t have any spots. This way it was already decided and we could just start calling her that name from the beginning.

My wife found a few names that, while they were beautiful and fit for a female dog, were still just a little too feminine for my taste especially when she was going to be my “ruff” and tumble (get the pun?) adventure pal. I planned to train her to hunt for shed antlers and possibly retrieve for water fowl hunting. I just had a hard time thinking I’d be sending a “Daisy” out into the cold and muddy water to grab a dead duck in her mouth and bring it back to me with pride.

So we shifted gears. Planning for her to be at the print shop with me most days we started thinking of print-related names. We considered hard on Cyan, but ultimately had a hard time finding Blue in a Brown dog (I often get hung up on practicalities, that’s the same reason I struggle watching Sci-Fi films). The idea of naming her Toner came into the mix and we both agreed it would be perfect!

The kids were ecstatic to discover a puppy would be coming home with us, especially J8. They were full of excitement and enthusiasm to play, rough house, show her new toys, and just run like crazy animals all over with her in tow.

In fact, within the first few days I found myself worried that MY puppy was going to be more loyal and interested in being with them than with me. They were the fun ones where anything went, just play, play, play all day long! While I was the one trying to potty train, teach obedience, and all of that not-so-fun stuff.

I was also the one putting in all the hard work while they got all the fun; taking her out every hour and cleaning up the mess inside when she didn’t make it outside in time, having to wake up three times through the night to let her out, etc. With all of this in the works I found myself wondering “what was I thinking!” more than once. Trying to decide if I had just made a HUGE mistake by taking on a dog. Oh, and in case you are wondering; I am the dog person in our home, my wife is a cat person and she has explained to me more than once that the low-maintenance, naturally cuddly nature of a cat is WHY she is a cat person.

But sooner than I could let any buyers remorse settle in, I found myself with a little buddy. We went on a few camp trips, she settled into long days at work, and enjoyed going out to the hay field to move the water each morning. I think what really sealed the bond though, was the nights we spent on the couch together sleeping; she would start on my lap or right next to me curled up in a cuddly little ball. But soon she’d sit up, turn around and walk with her front legs, dragging her back legs behind her until she was fully stretched out on her belly. We came to call this “supermanning” because she’d do it all over the place, especially when she was hot and wanted to feel the cool floor on her belly. Front legs straight out in front of her and rear legs straight out behind her. But she’d always end up tight against my side again at some point through the night.

Toner did not remain a small, little puppy for very long. Her little body began to expand immediately! In order to track her rapid growth we came up with a plan to take a photo of her next to one of our production machines’ toner bottles each time we had to replace it. This has ended up being about a weekly basis. She started just a bit shorter than the bottle but quickly passed it up.

With her physical growth came her intellectual growth too. I found a dog excited to do work and very anxious to please. I jumped right into all of the normal obedience training: come, sit, lay down, etc. One command I put a lot of emphasis on is the stay command. I’ve found that to be so helpful with my prior dogs and knew it would be important for her to understand and excel at.

One evening at work I started feeling guilty because it had been such a busy day and I had hardly given her any attention. Usually I would try and take a few 15 minute breaks throughout the day to play with her and do some sort of simple training but that day I barely had time to rush her out to go potty every once in a while just to rush back in and get right back to work.

I found myself at my desk, with her nosing me and trying to climb on my lap, but if I could just focus for about a half hour then I would get done what I needed and we could both go home. So that set the challenge: how do I get the focus I need to get done what I needed to while still giving her some attention and working out some of her energy? She needed some sort of interesting job that would make her work mentally and physically but that could also interact with me.

My mind shifted to what I hoped to achieve with her shed antler training. We hadn’t done anything with it up to that point because I was so focused on obedience. I had looked at a few training kits but still didn’t think she was quite ready for that stage yet. But I wanted to at least get her started on something while she was young.

The goal with shed antler training is that she would seek out the shed antler and once she found it, using some sight but mostly scent, she’d pick it up and come find me to deliver it into my hands. So in order to create that thought process I decided to take a small plastic bottle and fill it with some treats that had a good, strong smell to them. I then took my pocket knife and poked a bunch of holes in it so that the smell could escape. After making sure the cap was screwed on good and tight, so that she couldn’t access the treats, I let her smell it and played with her with it for a minute or two. That turned into a couple of quick retrieves and each time she’d bring it back to me I’d open it up and give her a treat.

Once she had that concept down it turned into a great game of hide and seek. I’d do a sit-stay (see what I mean about the stay command) in my office and then I’d go hide the bottle. At first it was in an obvious location but it quickly turned into more difficult to find places. I’d come back, sit in my chair and ignore her for a minute, just to build the anticipation and test her control, and then I’d say “okay, go find it!” She’d bolt out of the room like a rocket and start trotting around the shop sniffing the air in an attempt to zero in on the prize.

During that time it afforded me a few minutes of focus to get done what I needed to as I awaited her to return, bottle in her mouth, ready for her treat and to go another round. It was the perfect solution for that night’s dilemma; I got the work done I needed to, she expelled the energy she needed to, and we got the interaction we needed. Not to mention an excellent start to her training!

That training soon turned into a soft rubber decoy antler, for her protection as she learned to handle it, with some antler scent. She transitioned really well into that and we’ve used that same routine several times in order to afford her some work/play and me some focus on what I needed to.

The frustrations of having a puppy have been experienced on nearly a daily basis. She jumps up on people, she sheds……LIKE CRAZY!!!!! She gets distracted, poops in the building 2.5 minutes after being out to go pee, chews up one of our kids toys, ALWAYS has a sock in her mouth, etc.

Recently I’ve started doing Search and Rescue training with her. I’ve always been intrigued with bloodhounds that can track a person for miles and Toner has a focus on doing work like that that I’ve never seen in my other dogs. I think she’ll do it and I think she’ll do it well! But my excitement has been diminished on several occasions as I’ve attended those trainings with her at my side constantly pulling the leash trying to get to the other humans and dogs. She won’t look at me, listen to me, or respond to me. Even when I’m crouched down in her face she’s constantly dodging around me to see what’s going on across the way. She is such a good dog in private, at the business, or at home. But in that setting she makes me look like a fool who hasn’t spent a minute on training!!!

In those moments I have found myself forgetting that I am working with a puppy. That, while she is nearing her full size, or at least I hope she doesn’t grow much larger than she already is, she is merely a child. Still learning, still growing, developing, maturing. She still comes into situations like that with an adolescent energy and excitement that she just can’t control!

My wife and kids attended one of those trainings the other night. The group had arranged for the use of an indoor run that had agility equipment inside. It was a good opportunity to work the dogs on obedience and push them to try climbing on things, going through things, etc. For the first half hour of the program I just found myself constantly fighting an ever-changing direction leash, pulled taunt by a, probably close to 60lbs now, machine that was clawing at the ground in an attempt to reach the closest dog, smell, human, etc.

But, after the excitement died down a bit and she was able to take in what she needed to, suddenly I was handling a dog that was anxious to run, jump, and go through anything I asked her to. It was so cool to see her willingness, trust, and drive to do what I asked her to. Yes, in between she’d get distracted and pull towards the nearest thing she found interest in. But it was a good exercise for her to be there without greeting the other dogs/humans and to re-focus on me amidst those distractions.

Later that evening as my wife and I were discussing the night she reminded me that “she’s still just a puppy.” She’s growing, learning, and gaining intelligence and self control just as our children, J8 and T4, are. Maybe I was expecting just a little too much of her when all of the other dogs attending the program are 5+ years old.

Later that evening as I lay in bed, trying to shut the door on all of the lingering thoughts and notes for the day, my checklist fell to “puppy.” I started kicking myself for getting frustrated with the flaws she was displaying or had displayed in the past. I reflected on how I often found myself comparing her to my previous dog, Izzy (see Neglect). But what I was doing was comparing my puppy, Toner, to who Izzy was after years of work in her adult dog state. Not comparing puppy to puppy.

I’ve found myself many, many times catching myself with my own children. Expecting them to think and act like adults when they are still children. Why would I push them to quickly take on adult traits when I, myself, don’t like being an adult that much!?!? I wish for them to be adults, and I wish for myself to be a child again so that I can shirk of the responsibilities of being an adult. Why would I do the same to my puppy?

Let the puppy be a puppy!

Sure puppies and children need an adult to show them the path to becoming an adult. To set boundaries, teach them skills, take care of them, etc. So don’t take me wrong and think I’m encouraging you to raise wild animals where they are free to do what they want for however long they wanted to. But I know that I need that reminder often. That they are puppies for a reason. So let them revel in it! Give them opportunities to play, to be excited, to meet new dogs and new people often.

Expect what needs to be expected and let the rest go. She’ll get there. She’s already come so far! Unfortunately, before I know it, the puppy will be grown out of her and lost forever. So I had better enjoy that puppy progression while it lasts!

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