Thursday, December 29, 2011

It Takes Two to Tension: The Foundation of Good Leash Manners

A puppy-buyer emails to tell me that her puppy class instructor has recommended a "no pull" harness to correct her pup's leash-pulling.

Top of my skull shoots off.

I'll be shooting video of dogs hobbled by these canine straightjackets. Suffice it to say, I do not approve of this kinder, gentler method of destroying a young puppy's shoulder joints. Not to mention the all-positive nature of employing chronic pain as a management tool.*

Here's how you both prevent and correct leash pulling.

You go get the book The Koehler Method of Dog Training, and you follow the instructions in the first chapter. It's easily available on Bookfinder or at any public library where the book-banners have not gotten to it.**

To be clear, I am not a "Koehler trainer." Bit too cultish for me, to be blunt. But "The Foundation" is the pre-homework for my basic obedience classes, and I use it with most private client dogs and most of my foster dogs. And all lungers, leash-pullers, dingbats and thugs.

Here's the homework that my group class students get on the first night, the week before they bring their dogs to class. (They also have the exercise demonstrated, and then they practice hand and footwork with the help of one of my dogs.)

The Foundation

Before we train your dog to walk on a loose leash, come when called, heel, sit, down, stay, and more advanced obedience commands, you will provide him with one week of pre-training on your long line. This training will form the foundation of the rest of his obedience training by teaching him to be attentive and responsible to you, and by teaching you to be quiet and authoritative with your dog. It will also help you develop the physical skills that make leash-handling smooth, so that you don't confuse yourself and your dog later on. If you can do this exercise twice a day for 15 minutes, that's great; if only once a day, go for at least 20 minutes.

Day 1:

Make sure that your dog has not eaten within two hours, and has had a chance to relieve himself.

Take your dog to an open area that is free of obstacles, ice, mud, bad footing, etc. and is fairly level and smooth. Be appropriately dressed and shod. Suggestions: playing fields, church parking lots, mowed areas in office parks, large yards, fairgrounds. Avoid busy parks and places where it is likely that dogs or people will run up and try to play with your dog or otherwise interrupt your progress.

Fit the training collar† onto your dog, and clip the 15' long line to his collar. Hold the loop of the 15' line in your right hand as you practiced, and anchor it on your navel. Anchor your left hand over your right. Keep your left hand off of the rest of the leash.

Choose a target at the opposite end of the open area.

Tell your dog "let's go" and briskly set off towards your target, keeping your hands anchored.
Do not look at your dog to see if he is paying attention. Don't try to get his attention, cluck at him, tug on the leash or coax him along. Just go.

Your dog has 15' of leash slack to work with. Make sure he always has that full 15'.

If he shoots off in any direction, stop, plant yourself firmly, and turn away from him if necessary to keep a big dog from dragging you. Let him hit the end of the leash, but don't add any tugging to that. If he starts dragging you towards your goal, stop and plant yourself.
If your dog lags behind, keep walking briskly towards your target. Don't worry yourself if he screams, plants his butt, bucks, froths, bites at the line, or dashes in all directions. Don't stop to untangle him -- he has 15' feet of line, and can step out of tangles by himself. Keep your hands planted on your belly. If your dog trots along nicely with the slack of the line dragging between you, that's great -- but you still need to continue the exercise and repeat it each day.

Smile at your dog if he trots beside you and looks at your face. This should be the sincere kind of smile that starts at the eyes. He'll get it.

Don't say anything to your dog. Use duct tape if necessary!

When you reach your target, stop for 30 seconds and rest.

After your break, choose another target, and set off for it silently (no further commands) just as you did the first. Stop for 30 seconds when you reach it.

Continue this sequence for 15-20 minutes.

At the end, tell your dog "OK" and let him sniff around for a few minutes before heading home/inside. Don't make a big deal out of it, don't erupt into celebration or start a game of ball. Let your dog "process" what he's learned quietly. This is a good time to do your "Sit on the Dog" homework.

Day 2:

Exactly the same as Day 1. You may use the same training area, or move to a different one. Don't repeat the same pattern of movement.

Day 3:

Use one of the training areas you used on Days 1 or 2. Begin the same way, by walking briskly towards a goal. If you see your dog start to take off in a particular direction without paying attention to your movements, turn (away from the side the line is on, so you don't trip on it) and dash in the opposite direction, anchoring your hands firmly on your belly and heading towards a new target. Don't warn your dog that you are going to do this. Repeat as often as necessary. Be careful that you don't foul in the line and trip.

Day 4:

New training area, preferably with different kinds of distractions. Same as Day 3.

Day 5:

All week, think to yourself "What is most likely to tempt my dog into bolting?" On Day 5, set your dog up with one or more of those temptations. That might be another dog, a cat, children playing, an open gate, a family member, a radio-controlled car, food on the ground, a tennis ball, or a park full of squirrels.

Take your dog to an area with potential temptation(s). Place the temptations yourself before you bring out the dog, if that's what it takes. Put on the training collar and long line, and march your dog straight towards the temptation, with the full 15' of slack line available to him.

As soon as he heads for it or his attention becomes fixed on it, turn on your heels and run in the opposite direction. (Again, be careful -- stay within your physical capabilities here.) If you have done the groundwork for the previous four days, there's an excellent chance your dog will not hit the end of the line.

If your dog does give in to temptation, walk away from the "bait" until he is once again following along with you, then turn and walk directly towards it again, repeating the setup as often as necessary.

Day 6:

Same as Day 5, but change the location and possibly the temptation, depending on how well your dog did on Day 5, and how many things are especially tempting to him.

Day 7:

We'll evaluate your foundation on the long line as you arrive for class on Day 7. I'll ask you to walk to a target on the field outside the training building (be sure to be dressed for this, as the field can be wet). I'm looking for a dog who walks pleasantly beside or behind you with a nice loop of slack dragging behind the both of you. Remember that the kennel property is going to be full of wonderful distracting things. Don't flinch from the temptation setups on the previous two days, and don't cut your practice short.

Back before I could do video uploads, I had a Yahoo photo account, and posted these photos of my then-foster dog, Teddy, on Day 5 of his leash training (Day 6 of living with us). Yahoo photos went away, but I recently resurrected the files from an old external drive.

Since we were having a lovely blizzard, the photos aren't great, and my technique is somewhat hindered by bad footing and visibility. I more lumbered than ran when I about-turned. But Teddy was a great and willing student. You can see the difference between the first and second approaches to a great temptation in the photo sequence. More important, you can see the position of the trainer's hands, what the leash is doing, and how to make the turns so you don't end up face-planting and then hog-tied by a dog.

*Which is also the correct term for a "trainer" who is so effing lazy and useless that she straps these S&M gizmos onto dogs -- much less baby puppies -- instead of, you know, training them.

** That's not a joke. Wanna make a self-proclaimed "positive" trainer pop a vein? Just whisper "Koehler" under your breath as you walk by. I used to think that apoplexy was a quaint figure of speech that did not correspond to any actual physical state. Anyway, Bill Koehler knew how to jab 'em, and wasted no opportunity. In return, and in revenge for having their asses handed to them by his followers in competition obedience, they ban his books.

† For this exercise, this is either a properly-fitted traditional slip collar in chain, leather, or nylon, or a properly-fitted martingale collar. Do not use a prong collar for this exercise. It would be bad. Do not use a flat (static, non-constricting) collar for this exercise, or any kind of harness. And under no circumstances ever use a head halter for this exercise. Unless you are attempting to kill the dog via cervical dislocation. That might work well.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Sincere and Comfortable Conviction

Some years ago I found this parable quoted in Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. It's from The Ethics of Belief by the mathematician and philosopher William Clifford, written in 1874:

"A shipowner was about to send to sea an emigrant ship. He knew that she was old, and not overwell built at first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often needed repairs. Doubts had been suggested to him that possibly she was not seaworthy. These doubts preyed upon his mind, and made him unhappy; he thought that perhaps he ought to have her thoroughly overhauled and refitted, even though this should put him to great expense. Before the ship sailed, however, he succeeded in overcoming these melancholy reflections. He said to himself that she had gone safely through so many voyages and weathered so many storms, that it was idle to suppose that she would not come safely home from this trip also. He would put his trust in Providence, which could hardly fail to protect all these unhappy families that were leaving their fatherland to seek for better times elsewhere. He would dismiss from his mind all ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of builders and contractors. In such ways he acquired a sincere and comfortable conviction that his vessel was thoroughly safe and seaworthy; he watched her departure with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.

"What shall we say of him? Surely this, that he was verily guilty of the death of those men. It is admitted that he did sincerely believe in the soundness of his ship; but the sincerity of his conviction can in nowise help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him. He had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts."

It's a nice time-warped exegesis on the Upton Sinclair saw, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

At the time I found this and shared it with my friend Keith, he was leading the van to debunk a now-notorious swindle, and I was one of the many flankers.

The peddlers of the DKL Lifeguard made the mistake of attempting to sell their dowsing rod qua Klingon disruptor at a meeting of the board of the Appalachian Search and Rescue Conference. We were meant to swallow their pitch that the magic whizzbox could detect live humans -- and only live humans -- through walls and at great distances out in the shrubberies.

Because, you know, buncha dumb grunts who schlepp around in the briars and mud, right?

Including aerospace engineers, herds of extra-class HAM operators, physicians, physicists, a biochemist, nurses, and yours truly, who served as the alpha-test audience for a professional sleight-of-hand magician starting at age three.

Don't try to pull a amateur snow-job on a room full of that much geeky goodness.

Separately, the sharp minds in that room saw sundry holes in the DKL peddlers' lines about radio frequencies, antennae, cardiology, electronic circuits, and recognized the ideomotor effect in action as well as the half-competent use of stage misdirection, during the demonstration.

Over lunch, we put it all together. Keith literally dropped a dime and called the FBI that day.

The upshot? The FBI initially expressed interest and then mysteriously dropped the matter; we surmise that they had already bought some of the units on our tax-paying nickel, and were embarrassed or else infested with True Believers who quashed the action. Or perhaps our Commonwealth's former senior Senator put the kibosh on it -- gotta help out those constituents. Sandia National Laboratories conducted double-blind tests of the whizbox, in which it performed slightly worse than random chance, and then deconstructed one of them to find no actual circuitry, and some human hair intentionally glued to the boards.

James Randi offered DKL his million dollar challenge prize to prove the whizbox worked; no nibbles.

Oh, and Keith was threatened by DKL via lawyer-letter, and I was threatened by a True Believer cop whose department had bought a couple whizboxes and was using them in, for example, hostage standoffs. Nothing came of either set of threats, though if you ever hear of me being pulled over and the fuzz "finding" fifty kilos of cocaine and a dead hooker in the trunk, you can be pretty sure about what happened.*

And DKL's officers are not in prison for fraud, not bankrupt, not ridden out of town on a rail, and are happily selling their whizbox to the Chinese. Probably a good idea for them not to travel to China themselves, given that government's penchant for shooting a few scapegoats when too many of its citizens die due to fraud and corruption in too-public a manner. (Hey China. Bet you could have avoided this expensive and potentially lethal error with a simple Google search. Too bad about that.)

So that's that story, such as it still is, proof that tenacity is the ultimate virtue of the swindler -- a commercial manifestation of the Big Lie in action.

But the context of the Clifford quote in this story is this: My friend Keith is so generous in his estimation of human nature that he was actually defending the DKL swindlers, because, as he said, they seemed to genuinely believe the hocus-pocus they were selling, and had probably invested their savings in the company based on that belief. He had empathy for them on that basis.

I am not so expansive. I didn't and don't believe for a minute that the sales pitch is sincerely held. We argued a bit about this. But as neither Keith nor I are privileged to peer inside the mind of another, I submitted Clifford's argument to him as a refutation of the morality of his more charitable estimation. Even if the DKL pitchmen believe that their gizmos perform the improbable feats advertised, they have no right to believe on such evidence as is before them.

My mother's second husband was a salesman. Not a man who made his living selling stuff, a salesman. Whatever he was selling was The Greatest Thing Ever. When he was selling some noxious overpriced "diet program" with its vile prepackaged shelf-stable food -- well, the food was delicious, the weight loss was inevitable, everything was healthful, and the cost was absolutely negligible. My failure to appreciate these obvious truths was an affront to morality. He was relentless in attempting to sell me this whole system, despite the fact that I was a skinny and impoverished twenty-something who had zero potential to actually become a customer. It was just as much fun as having an evangelizing cultist in the family. And Mike was immune to all objections, including "I don't like the taste of that sawdust bar you just tried to feed me." Because even aesthetics becomes absolute for a True Believer, especially one who has had to work extra-hard to overcome the overwhelming evidence against his position. The more patently absurd the belief, the more ardently it is held.

This principle holds for so many things in life. On the "demand side," it is always prudent to beware of True Believers who are selling you something, or "selling" you something, such as an idea, religion, political candidate. The greater the investment -- whether material or identity -- in whatever thing, the higher the potential for self-deception. Because a sincerely-held false belief makes it much easier to lie to others and reap the benefits of the lie.

Which brings us to dogs.

Not that human beings ever become irrational about dogs, right?

One of the most productive fisheries of human self-deception that I have surveyed is ongoing over at Jemima Harris' Pedigree Dogs Exposed blog.

Read the comment streams on any post. While all our previous ethological work on the habits of trolls had characterized them as fairly solitary culvert beasts, they descend on PDE in great anonymous insectoid swarms, bringing with them a profane and illiterate alternate reality of eugenic inbreeding, jaunty, healthy English bulldogs, beautifully-moving German shepherds, free-breathing pugs, and champeen cocker spaniels that put their hair up into curlers on Monday and hunt for supper.

Great numbers of the Anon legions appear to be afflicted with reverse body-image dysmorphia by proxy. In other words, they look at a sick, deformed, objectively hideous, crippled and suffering animal, and see beauty, grace, happiness and health. And like those fetishists called "feeders," they seek to amplify the deformity in order to gratify their own twisted pleasure, all the while calling it "love."


I love you so much, you don't need oxygen.

I commend Jemima Harris for providing a venue in which those members of the show dog fancy who, along with their other malfunctions, lack a functioning prefontal cortex -- the part of the brain that would otherwise tell a chronological adult Don't say what you are thinking, other people will know that you are a douchebag -- can reveal in public the disordered groupthink that prevails in their usual deranged self-referential cliques.

Alas, the show-fancy set may set the gold standard for a sincere and comfortable conviction in a self-serving and cruel delusion, but they are not alone in the dog world. They are joined by many fellow-travelers.

Entitled crazies who mistake self-absorbed neuroses for an ADA-protected disability, and their untrained, equally neurotic pets for "service animals."

Profiteers who prey on the parents of genuinely disabled children, selling them untrained "service animals" for astounding prices with unconscionable promises of burdens lifted and miracle therapies.

Clickerians who keep lowering the bar for what constitutes "training" and "trained" in order to justify their fantasy methods and general lack of skill or standards.

"SAR handlers" who fail to meet the ordinary expectations for competence, but "mean well" and "want to help." The entities and individuals who have never worked in search and rescue who "certify" them for a fee. The responsible agencies who field them because they can't be bothered to learn the difference between a real credential and paperhanging.

Breeders who adopt a see no evil policy to health testing for breeding stock and followup on puppies sold, and construct a sales pitch designed to mollify buyers who may have been helpfully told what to ask about, but have no idea what constitutes an acceptable answer.

Health registries that allow owners and breeders to conceal non-normal results while exploiting any normal results as advertising copy, thereby (wink wink, nudge nudge) making themselves willing accomplices to the defrauding of naive buyers by unscrupulous ship owners breeders.

"Miller Lite" breeders whose slick or folksy websites (watch for Bible verses and cartoon angel animated GIFs) belie the reality that each of their four bitches is bred to the stud that they conveniently happen to own at every opportunity. Paypal accepted. But we are not a puppymill, nooo, we lurve all our goggies.

"Rescues" that are anything from fishy revolving-door retailers to frank back-door sales outlets for unsold puppymill stock.

Buyers who "stifle their doubts" when the flags are all red, when they have even been explicitly warned about a breeder or "rescue," and then complain about having been swindled.

None have come by their convictions, whether sincere or "sincere," honestly. And none can claim exemption from culpability for what their systematically stifled doubts have wrought. All can look forward to being guests here. It's going to be a long winter for patient investigation.


* Especially tricky because my car doesn't have a trunk.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Photo Phriday: Nature Bats Last, Asphalt Edition

Parking lot of a defunct carpet store, temporarily repurposed as a Halloween shop.

Wetland don't need your protection. Wetland just needs time.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Snapshot Sunday: Chickies Have Two Mommies

These two hens went broody within about five days of one another. I gave each of them a private nest box filled with eggs in a large unused stall in the barn. I knew that I'd have to move the first clutch to hatch quickly, as the still-setting hen was likely to try to kill them when they started running around.

The morning after they hatched, Broody Prima was in the nest box with Broody Dos, setting on those eggs, while the chicks ran around the stall and popped under either hen indiscriminately.

Sigh. Buff Orpingtons. The golden retrievers of chickendom.

The two ladies raised their clutches communally; within a couple weeks, it wasn't even possible to tell the older chicks from the younger ones. They were very successful, bringing up 19 chicks together. They lost two to a barn rat that grabbed them at night, before the cats took care of him. The two Mommas were seldom more than ten feet apart. I never saw them quarrel.

They have, of course, both earned blue broody leg bands, which exempts them from the crock pot. I'm eager to see whether they sync up their broodiness next year.

Broodiness is a genetic trait, not a learned one, so I am saving eggs from each of them come spring.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Choosing and Raising a Small Farm Dog: Short Form

By request from many of the wonderful participants at my farm dog presentations at the Mother Earth News Fair on Saturday, I have uploaded my powerpoint slides to the web. You can find the presentation here.

I added notes to the presentation, since the slides are mostly just mnemonic cues for me while I'm gabbling and a chance to put in some pretty pictures . The notes don't show up when you view the powerpoint online, but should if you download it. The urls for further resources are there on the slides.

After the Roseannadannas are all launched (I'm at three today, it will be two by Thursday) and I'm done feeling sorry for myself and moping around, I'll have more to say on this, concentrating more specifically on English shepherds, with in-depth information about health concerns, intelligence-gathering before purchase, and how to find an ES whose specific temperament is right for your farm and home.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Snapshots Saturday: Kid Gene

I only want to produce English shepherds who have the kid gene.

That means they don't just tolerate whatever damn fool thing a kid does to them, they generally like it.

I want to see the pups become one big wiggle when they see a human child. I want them to leave their masters' sides to snuggle a toddler.

Pip and her sister Roz came with it. On the ride home with them from their breeder's, we stopped at a rest stop. The girlpuppies saw some children at a distance, and were overcome with joy. With careful selection of males, all of Pip's descendants have retained this magnetic pull to children, and a gentle and indulgent nature with them.

Today I gave a presentation on choosing and raising a small farm dog at the Mother Earth News Fair, courtesy of the nice folks at PASA.

Actually, I gave it twice.

The pups (the five who are still here; Gilda went home Thursday) were supposed to be part of a friend's stockdog demo, scheduled back-to-back with the presentation. Rachel never made it, apparently thwarted by the ebil power of PennDOT. So neither did the slow, fat ducks we hoped to "start" the pups on today.

Instead, at the command of a torch and pitchfork brigade, I did a repeat of the lecture, and the pups, Gramma Pip, and Uncle Cole then became the main attraction in the livestock pen. It was large enough that they could retreat from attention if they chose (they didn't, except to play briefly; naptime in the small puppy pen was enforced). The stock panels allowed petting access but not picking up. Also allowed Jane, who is an X-dog with the power to walk through walls, to slide out several times, but we retrieved her with the help of her admirers on the other side.

The awesome puppy-wrangler Rebecca Hostetter and I got pretty fatigued counting, counting, counting puppies. We each got to briefly visit the rest of the Fair when we rounded them up for naptime. Not enough time. Too many things to see. I cannot return tomorrow, but next year ...

For the participants at the Fair who have asked for my Powerpoint, I will have it online this week some time, and will post a link here when it is up.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Pupdorf School

Conquer Mount Mulcherest or memorize the state capitals?

In face of the -- pardon me -- frakking absurd claim from a throne of authority* that puppies of eight weeks of age ought to be "error-free" housebroken, and trained to sit, down, and roll over, we here at Brandywine Bone 'n' Breakfast opt out of the Puppy Einstein / No Pup Left Behind hype. We are not in favor of eliminating recess from the puppy curriculum so that we can cram in another half-hour of multiplication tables and maybe up our scores on the next round of standardized tests.

Think of it as a Steiner preschool for puppies. Plenty of outdoor play time, access to natural materials in preference to plastics, simple toys (a knotted flannel rag is a favorite), opportunities to learn by imitation, and inclusion in adult activities, such as tagging along to help feed the goats.

I like how fluidly the pups segue their interactions -- amongst themselves, with their mother, with the other adult dogs, the human visitor, and their physical environment. (Including the truly impressive tunnel project they are collectively executing under that landscape boulder.)

When I raised litters at our former home -- a suburban tract house with a large fenced yard -- I put out lots of interesting obstacles for the pups to explore.

Notsomuch here. The topography, landscaping, livestock, shrubberies both domestic and freelance -- all fill that developmental niche much more organically than my old tires and wicket walks and ramps and puppy teeters. Bonus, there are periodic appearances by chickens. Very fast chickens.

There are some play objects on what is now known as the poopdeck -- a ramp, wobble disk, cardboard boxes, tug toys -- but now that they have unrestricted access to the outdoors most of the day, they spend little time there.

In a little over a week they'll be starting off in their new homes, perfectly ready to learn sit, down, and I before E except after C in a matter of minutes.

What they can learn best now is how to be happy, relaxed, bold, curious baby dogs in a world where the affairs of big dogs and big humans continue in their presence.

*NB: An "authority" who, as near as I can determine, has neither bred nor raised a single litter of puppies. Ever.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Photo Phriday: Fun Uncle, #2

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Ernesto is still a puppy himself. It's like having a teenage babysitter who still likes to play Legos with the kids.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Base Seven

One of the gospels of dog breeders who make a good-faith effort to do right by their puppies is the popular "Rule of Sevens."

Not a bad floor. If someone pays enough attention to a litter to meet this criteria, it's likely that the pups will go to their homes well-socialized and fairly resilient, ready to be well-adjusted pets or show dogs.

But if one is aiming to develop the most confident, flexible, intelligent, unflappable working companion allowed by each pups' genetics, one should be aiming higher and thinking more about process than checklists.

When I learned to do bodywork on animals, my witch doctor friend Maryna taught us a low-velocity, deep-penetrating pulse in-hold-pulse out pattern. One's fingers "intrude" on the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, remain at the point of deepest intrusion until they detect the desired change (a release of tension, or of some of it) and then gradually retreat, allowing the animal's mind and body to register the change and assimilate it into the whole.

This principle of pressure and release works in behavioral rehab, too -- you push your student/patient/subject to the point of discomfort, hold that degree of pressure while the mind copes with the challenge and achieves some incremental change, and then gradually take the pressure off, allowing a period of rest while the change assimilates into the whole animal.

Without pressure -- challenge -- there is no forward momentum. Without pausing and holding the pressure, there is no change. And without retreat and rest, there is no processing of what just happened, no long-term application.

The Roseannadannas don't need rehab. They are clean and shiny and new; they are perfect, and so is their world. But their world will expand, and they will expand to meet it, through the same process of pressure, hold, release.

Much of the "pressure" comes from inside the puppies. They are bursting to grow. They push their own comfort levels in order to satisfy their intense curiosity. This is the pressure to expand that is natural to every intelligent creature, and all we need to do is support it.

Monday they were enjoying their free-range time. Now, whenever I can, I close the gates and open the doors so that they have access to the puppy-proofed kitchen and living room, the deck, and the whole outdoors via the front door (which opens from the kitchen). They are lightly supervised as we go about our business. The big dogs can mingle with them, or go in the back door to the parts of the house that are gated off -- pups can't get there yet. There's nothing between pups and poultry other than the poultry's good judgement and speed.

In general, they move in groups -- this is their time to learn about dog society with one another. They spend a lot of time playing and contending, and a lot of time sleeping. They play with Cole or Ernie or mob their mother. They play with any humans who are among them. The social world takes precedence.

But some of the time, they are pulsing out -- pushing the physical boundaries of their world. On
Sunday, the theme was to climb the landscaping boulders in the front yard, push leads into their crevices, and generally work in three dimensions. Monday we were all about getting into the mint patch for a little aromatic puppy caving. (Few photo ops in that endeavor.)

Generally, when I walk a hundred feet from the front door, the pups fall back. But not always. On Sunday, Garrett followed me all the way to the barnyard for night chores, then found his way back without drama. This meant negotiating some stone steps, down and then up. Monday, tiny Gilda followed me to the pole barn, hung out while I assembled tools, and then followed me back. These are long treks for little puppies, precursors of the pack walks that will start in a few days.

As they develop, we also provide some pressure -- not often to push them further outwards, but to direct their expanding psyches.

Chevy roo-roos and wants to be picked up. I love his drive to engage a person, but he's a bit pushy and full of swagger. I pick him up and cradle him, and he becomes slightly stiff -- he did not want to be cradled on his back, he wanted to come into my lap and nibble my chin and generally have me enable his agenda. I keep him cradled and he pitches a minor tantrum. Alas, it does not succeed in granting him his wish. When the tantrum abates, not before, I set him upright in my lap for stroking and kissies. Pressure ... hold ... hold ... hold ... hold ... releeeease. We will repeat this many times.

Gilda is playing with a bit of cotton rope. I take the end and apply gentle traction. We play "tug" while I stroke her whole body with long, firm, calming strokes, the way I've seen the best schutzhund trainers work with a young puppy. Nothing exciting, no thrashing around, no proving I'm stronger than a five-pound furball. Her grip stays firm. I let the rope slide out of my hand (gradual release). We will teach her to release a toy in a few weeks. To my delight, when she finds she has full possession of the rope, she cheerfully brings it back to me and asks me to re-engage. Playing with someone is more fun than having something. A lesson she will learn many times, in many contexts, until one day she is teaching it to some pup in the dog park or some toddler who is learning about grabbiness.

The pups have the routine and the familiar, and they have challenges to the routine and familiar. I put a new obstacle onto the deck -- it is a challenge and a diversion. Can I climb on it? Under it? Does it move if I hit it? Is it shreddable? This is exciting! But other things stay the same. If I get too stimulated, I can always go sleep on my same pillow with my same brother. Mother changes -- now she says no to me, and sometimes she plays with me -- but she is also the same -- she smells the same and the milk still tastes so good and she still cleans me like she did the minute I was born. With every pulse of pressure to grow and change, there's a corresponding path back to the familiar, a physical or emotional space to rest and contemplate that becomes the springboard to dive back into the unfamiliar. Each pulse-hold-release strengthens the whole pattern, until the familiar becomes the puppy's own sense of herself, and to the degree that her genetics permit, nothing can faze her.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Macro Monday: Hornworms' Lament

Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly. Insects, it seems, gotta do one horrible thing after another.

-- Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Our friend Andy spotted these two critters on the currant tomato that is growing rampantly in the washtub by the grape arbor.

They are larvae of Manduca quinquemaculata -- the five-spotted hawk moth -- aka tomato hornworms.

And they have munched their last nightshade leaves.

The stuff that looks like a a threadbare white shag carpet are parasitoids -- the pupae of a braconid wasp. As larvae, they already ate most of the insides of the hornworms, which maintain just enough life to cling to the branch where they stopped. (I took these photos on Saturday, and the worms are still where we left them.) Soon they will hatch out into adults and go hunting other hornworms on which to lay their eggs. I've never seen a hornworm with this heavy a parasitoid infestation. I guess they aren't any more doomed / dead than one with a few pupae.

I'm ambivalent about this particular horrible thing. The hornworms can really play hell with the tomatoes, and the little wasps are very effective at controlling them. But the adult moths are magnificent -- easy to mistake for hummingbirds when one first sees one -- and we have lots of tomato foliage. When I find a healthy hornworm, I tend to just stick it on a robust volunteer tomato somewhere away from the garden, or else on some wild nightshade.

The life cycle of parasitic wasps is the stuff of nightmares and the inspiration for some viscerally horrifying speculative fiction.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It Takes a Pack to Raise a Puppy, Part I: Uncle Cole

A great mother gets a puppy -- or a whole mob of them -- off to a great start.

But it's not natural that she should have to do it alone.

While the pups work out many of their social principles internally, with puppy-on-puppy interactions, there is no substitute for lessons learned from grown dogs.

Not all of those lessons are about respect, self-control, good manners, and other civilized virtues.

Some of the most important ones are about having fun (with a little thrill of "danger," perhaps), being indulged, knowing that you are widely beloved.

The entire pack here is solicitous and protective towards the puppies. Woe to the errant woodchuck or crow who "threatens" the wee ones as they play on the deck or yard.

Uncle Moe is psychologically incapable of letting it go and romping with tiny puppies. He knows this about himself and withdraws from mayhem. Sophia and Ernie are still kept on the periphery for the moment, because Rosie says so -- she will soon relax this rule. Pip enjoyed them a bit more when they were at the snausage stage.

Cole is, as I expected, coming into his own as the Fun Uncle. The guy who will let you get away with stuff that Mom pops you for. He will feed you candy and swing you around and get you riled up before bedtime and tell scary stories and wrestle.

He had a dress rehearsal with the Indiana Plague Puppies this winter. Those pups came to us at about seven weeks old, and he didn't know their mother at first, wasn't sure what to make of them or what he'd be allowed to do. In time he found ways to have a blast with them.

These puppies are pack puppies. He and Moe probably both half-think that they are the Daddy, seeing as neither ever got the memo about their testicles. It's likely that they have an unconscious sense of their own relatedness, driven by olfactory information about their MHC that shunts straight to their primal lizard brains. (Moe as a biological uncle, and Cole as a cousin, though it's not clear exactly how close.)

This video shows Cole playing with the four-week-old Roseannadannas for the very first time. At first he is afraid to contact them. They might break. He might get in trouble. Best to dance without touching. In less than ten minutes, he is flopping on the grass for them, inviting them to pile on.

Yes, the whole episode was really that silent. Most of the whining you hear is one or more pups in my lap, complaining that I am paying attention to the camera and not puppies. When Cole plays with age-mates, he is very vocal -- sounds positively savage. I don't think he makes a peep here. What does he need to say, with a grin that big?

I was going to edit out Rosie interrupting the play, for length, but decided to leave those moments in. Notice how she comes in and disciplines the pups -- that is diminishing after a week, as they learn to solicit and give respect to her. Also notice how Cole literally fades into the background when she does this. Don't get involved, Dude.

But for sure, be there when Mom lets you out of your room and off grounding, because we are gonna have some fun.

I'm so happy the pups have this in their lives. It will make them richer, more complex, more flexible beings than if they'd been raised by just their dam, with cameo appearances by humans.

I'm even happier that Cole has puppies in his life.

One of the volunteers who cared for Cole during his troubled puppyhood and adolescence told me that, because of his severe intraspecific aggression, they thought that he could go into a home where there were no other pets, and with an owner who would keep him away from other dogs, not take him out to parks or places where dogs congregated. That was the best life they hoped for Cole, and they worried that he was so aggressive to animals that he wouldn't be granted that.

When Pip adopted him, Cole was allowed to be a puppy among adult dogs -- psychologically speaking, for the first time in his life. Now he's getting the immense privilege of playing the junior uncle role in the pack -- a useful station in life that prepares one for full social maturity as a stable, well-adjusted, happy adult.

Monday, August 29, 2011


We are beginning to wean the Roseannadannas.

Force-weaning is unnecessary, and frankly a bit barbaric. Unless a bitch cannot nurse her pups -- mastitis is commonly the cause -- there's almost never a reason to pull them cold-turkey off her milk.* Mother will wean, and the gradual process is part of their physical development and education as social beings.

Rosie feeds her babies when she feels the need to now, not whenever she is with them and they are hungry. This means that she is starting to tell them no. Sometimes Hell No. She's got the clawed breasts and chewed nipples to justify it.

I was reflecting on the advice we trainers all give to owners -- the injunction to, above all else, be consistent.

But Rosie -- their first teacher -- is not at all consistent. Sometimes she will let them nurse, sometimes she won't. Sometimes she just exits stage left, sometimes she is quite forceful and scary in her nipple-denying tactics, even seeming to practice entrapment by not choosing to walk away when she easily could do so. Downright erratic.

Is Rosie then a bad mother? Or are dog mothers a bad template for teaching things to puppies and dogs? Shouldn't we throw out Nature's horribly flawed schematics and adopt the cold perfection of the Skinner box and the dolphin tank?

This begs the question, what is Rosie teaching her pups?

If the lesson was meant to be "You can't nurse anymore," then Rosie would be a mercurial tutor.

What if the lesson is something else?

Perhaps "You are no longer a helpless blind hamster; your needs will not be met before you are even aware of them, ever again. Deal with it."

Or, "You will ask before invading the personal space of a superior being."

Or, "Because I'm the Mommy, that's why."

Or even, "Don't let the door hit ya in the ass on your way to your new home." (Extended goodbye version.)

I think it is the pinpoint edge of the general principle that leads from infancy to full social adulthood: Love, she is conditional after all.

I think unconditional love ends for every mammal the day she bites Mommy's nipple hard enough to hurt. From that day on, we need to control our selfish impulse to atrocity in order to merit care and acceptance. This is a good thing.

So Mommy starts saying no, and we humans, who will (collectively) continue to nurture and guide long after her crucial job is completed, take over a little of her first role as food-givers and contingency-enforcers.

This will be the second litter I have weaned on raw meat, hand-fed. I found the conventional kibble-derived puppy-gruel to be unsatisfactory in several ways -- the mess (smelly, crusty puppies), the excessive competition among the pups, the repeated salvos of attacking yellowjackets, and the gawdawful diarrhea that my vet prescribed "special" food to correct.

I start them for the first few days on "satin balls" -- a rich firm mixture of ground beef (our dog beef has heart and liver in it), eggs, cereal, and some nifty supplements (recipe below). Puppies quickly discover that they love meat, and also that I am made of it. The hand-feeding is an opportunity for them to learn that I love them, but that this love does not extend to allowing them to feast on my living flesh. (For starters.) They don't learn to sit for a cookie or take a treat politely at four weeks of age -- they learn the groundwork for those and every other shred of good manners they will later acquire.

I mentioned posting the recipe for satin balls in the clip. This is the one I use, with a nutrient analysis. The Knox Joint Gelatin /Osteo Bi-Flex is harder to get than the TEN packets of gelatin in other versions of this recipe, but much cheaper.








Ground beef, 70% lean



1361 g

651 g


1089 mg

Total Cereal

Box (12 oz)





1134 mg


Box (18 oz)






Wheat germ

Jar (12 oz)





133 mg

Olive oil (vegetable oil)

1 1/4 cup





3 mg

Unsulfured molasses

1 1/4 cup





1872 mg

Raw Eggs

10 large





265 mg

Knox Joint Gelatin

(Osteo bi-flex nutrajoint)

3 oz **






Flaxseed Oil

1/4 cup














15# mixed


1,813 g

980 g

932 g

4496 mg

Amounts per pound


121 g

65 g

62 g

300 mg

Per one-ounce ball


8 g

4 g

4 g

19 mg

Whiz the cereal in the food processor or smash it up by stomping on the inner bag. I like the cereal to be very fine, and even food-process the dry oatmeal.

Mix all ingredients in a really big bowl. Get in there with your hands, a spoon will not do it. Add some more eggs or a little water if too stiff.

Roll into little balls and freeze, or freeze big clumps in ziploc bags.

Puts weight onto sick, starved, parasitized, and recovering dogs, and poor keepers. Good during times of stress -- such as nursing, hunting, SAR missions. Not for fat dogs!

* I have been reminded that it is common in certain breeds to take Momma away from her own offspring before she kills them. Literally. I consider this a flashing neon sign of rather vulgar proportions in the window of Nature's shop that says "DON'T MAKE MORE OF THESE."

** The analysis for the Osteo Bi-Flex Nutrajoint / Knox Joint Gelatin is not quite on -- when I did this analysis all I had was Knox plain gelatin, which is what you see in many satin balls recipes. This stuff has more calcium and less protein than plain gelatin. I had a hard time finding it, finally sent PC to a K-Mart in Ross that had it.

Snapshot Sunday: Command Post Compliant

Like her mentor, Lilly, Pip is a great command post dog.

She can recharge her batteries, schmooze, and keep it all low-key if I get pulled into management tasks.

Puppy blogging resumes this week. We've been a little oversubscribed since Tuesday. PC and I and our friends and family and pack have had just enough time to care for the Roseannadannas' emerging social needs, not enough time to report on their adventures.

This is why we breed more working dogs.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Macro Monday: Moving Day

Rosie thought she had it tough three weeks ago -- six whole puppies to move into the living room, and with only one human to step 'n' fetchit for her.

At the PARSEC picnic this Saturday, someone spotted these lovely golden ants on the march. We quickly ascertained that they were moving house, from under a hydrangea in a landscape island to beneath a sidewalk slab about 12 feet away.

I got this with my iPhone. There is some quality loss from the YouTube conversion -- not sure why. The original is much sharper.

Notice how the larvae and pupae only go in one direction. The ants moving left to right are returning to the old nest for more kids or stuff to shift.

I think The Vandals really capture the energy of ant moving day.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Use Names

When they go to their permanent homes, the Roseannadannas will get their permanent names.

Each will have a registered name and a regular name, chosen by their new families. Their registered names will begin with "Brandywine" and then generally be or contain their regular names. Nothing too fancy. They won't be trotting circles for the approval of some schlub in a monkey suit, so there's no need for chest-thumping when naming them. Just something unique that will make it possible to identify them in pedigrees. There are just eighteen possible registered names that their new humans cannot choose from, so it's pretty wide open. And they can call the dog whatever they wish. That's his real name, the one to which he answers. One does well to consider this task weighty, but not solemn.

Every burrower, each flier
Came for the name he had to give:

Gay, first work, ever to be prior,
Not yet sunk to primitive.

Meanwhile, they need baby names, Earthsean use names, as they learn to become individuals.

So, some introductions.

Jane is a petite little girl, either black and white or very dark seal. She can howl. It doesn't sound exactly like a howl, but she throws her little nose up when she does it, and this summons her mother.

Bill is the smallest boy. He is seal and white. He is going to have totally adorable big freckles. Right now he just looks like he has a dirty face. He already shows a beautiful structure. A cuddle pup.

Laraine is a dark-faced beauty -- that little white dot on her head will be gone soon. She's a big girl, just like her Aunt Tia, whom she resembles. She's one of the two most adventurous of the pups.

Garrett is a big boy, who will look like his grandma Pip. He's also an adventurer and the first to conquer the walls of the now-defunct Moses basket.

Gilda is a petite thing who will look like her Mom, except for her coloring -- dainty limbs and ultra-feminine head and face. She is the blackest, glossiest black. She loves to snuggle.

Chevy is the biggest puppy, nearly twice as big as Gilda. He likes to talk, and growl, and issue complaints. He resembles his Uncle Moe and (social) Uncle Cole. So if Cole is Mini-Moe, Chevy is Micro-Moe. He's already a little pisser, and I am already working on extra conditioning with him, because he's going to be a handful. He may also be a very dark seal.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Click little speech balloon icon for captions.

The Roseannadannas turn three weeks old today, leaving behind the label "transitional."

They have met and been handled by ten people, including two (older) children.

They've had a field trip outside every day in the past week when it hasn't rained. On each trip they are exposed to a slightly more challenging area (slope, undergrowth, and "obstacles" getting increasingly challenging.)

They are still riding in their Moses basket to their night crib in the bedroom closet, and back downstairs in the morning, but it is getting really heavy, and sometimes I have to sway it a little to keep them from climbing out.

They've experienced, I think, seven substrates, not counting human laps, etc.

They now rush the the front of their containment field when they see a person. Rush laps. Kiss faces, and try to get to faces to kiss them.

They know and trust Gramma Pip and Uncles Moe, Cole, and honorary Uncle Ernie. Aunt Sophia -- a proven good puppy Auntie -- is still at more of a distance, because Rosie says so. The grown dogs take on different roles. Moe is vigilant and protective, but increasingly keeps his distance as the pups become ambulatory, just as he did when Rosie and her siblings were tykes. Cole blocks Sophia and either blocks or distracts Ernie when Rosie starts getting unhappy about him. Pip would totally take over if Rosie would let her. She's very relaxed and matter-of-fact with the babies, just casually nurturing them, and they respond to her as if all puppies have a Gramma to babysit them, and it's just automatic for a puppy to grok that.

I'm just feeling little teeth under the gums now. Nursing is about to get a lot less fun for Rosie.

They are beginning to play with one another, soft toys, and parts of their mother, and to gum on humans in a way that suggests mischief or piranha-fish rather than suckling attempts.

Their new day pen is a 4'x6' space bounded by 16" deep (high) Closet Maid wire shelving* zip-tied at the corners. Big enough for a person to lie down and snuggle inside. It is half carpeted and bedded, half newspapers. They went to the newspapers to eliminate literally within seconds of being set down on the carpet remnant. They do this en masse when they wake up from a nap, even though the newspapers are slippery and hard to toddle on, to say nothing of hard to squat on.

For a completely raw video, taken with some smudges on the lens, of their first time outside on grass, look here.

* One of the few human constructions that I am convinced will survive global nuclear annihilation. Based on my observations during Katrina recovery search.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bye Bye Baby(hood)

With the appearance of all their tiny peepers over the weekend, the Roseannadannas are officially no longer neonates.

They've now entered the week of their life that has long been relegated to, in essence, "miscellaneous" or "other" or puppy limbo -- what behavioral researchers call the "transitional" period, prior to the explosion of learning and brain pruning between the ages of three to twelve weeks.

(Select little speech balloon to view captions)

As neonates, they experienced three different puppy dens and a Moses-sized wicker basket. A couple days after the first Moving Day, Rosie decided that she didn't want to give up the company of the rest of the family in order to care for her puppies. So, until they start eating solid food, they all get loaded into their Moses basket at night and come upstairs to bunk in my bedroom closet. Most mornings they get breakfast in bed -- a chance to imprint on human scent, snuggle, bump into Uncle Moe, and occasionally plop off the edge of the bed, lemming-fashion, and promptly fall asleep on the rug. Then, downstairs to the day den.

Their eyes opened precociously. They are sometimes getting their feet underneath themselves. I'm hearing proto-barks and liquid little growlettes among the squeaking, crying and puppy whale song. They recognize the existence of people and toddle closer, even climb into laps. They are great climbers; whenever I didn't provide lumps and bumps and texture changes in the puppy den, Rosie would heap the bedding into an infant monkeybars structure.

They are rather relaxed about handling. I'm still looking for that orienting reflex that allegedly "forces" a young puppy to right himself when he finds himself saluting the sky. Their reflex on being picked up and put in nearly any position is to go slack and fall asleep. They especially love being cradled.

If altricial infants can be said to "imprint," they have been imprinted on the scent and touch of human beings and the rest of their dog family, a great springboard for multi-species socialization.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Photo Phriday: Oh Hai!

Ten days old. Precocious peepers.

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Brain Breakfast

Old wive's white-coats' tale -- you can't teach a puppy anything before his eyes open.

No less a pair of authorities than Scott and Fuller proclaimed it, more or less.* After all, neonatal pups are blind, hear poorly, and don't get around all that well. Terrible at mazes. Nevermind that their little noses can lead them to the biggest nipple in their dark, warm world. Humans are a bunch of sight snobs. Worse than our hangup about thumbs.

Michael Fox** discovered that neonates could be conditioned to localize the scent of anise, but essentially concluded that this was as far as it goes.

Jebus Christmas -- they are living, growing beings. They don't just wake up from a coma at three weeks of age. Shit is happening.

Differential equations and whistle commands -- save it.

Neurological connections, resilience, trust, persistence, scent-imprinting -- now we're talking.

While the neonates' nervous systems are pruning and strengthening connections, their immune systems are also beginning to develop under the protection of mother's magic colostrum.

Interestingly enough, the same kinds of mild challenges can strengthen both body systems, just as massive insults to one can throw the other out of whack. (The immune system/nervous system nexus is huge and unappreciated. The New Agers basically ate the white-coats' lunch on this one, and it will be a while before those who apply the scientific method sheepishly catch up and distinguish the valid information from the moonbeams.)

Our "program" for imprinting and stimulating neonatal puppies is mostly the terrible chore of picking up little grunting sausages for snuggle time every day. I know! What we breeders sacrifice. Zrrrbting pink bellies, nibbling tiny toes, smooching little schnozzes -- oh the humanity.

But we do some extra stuff, too. We get a head start on the "Rule of Sevens" and make sure that the pups experience different surfaces in the whelping box. (With this litter, Rosie is intent on making sure they experience four or five different dens in the first two weeks -- still fighting that battle.) We create little moraines under their blankets, so that puppies must climb obstacles to reach the milk bar. (Or Rosie bunches the bedding into Mount Pupali and really gives them a workout.) As soon as Momma allows, pups are touched and cared for by their relatives -- Gramma Pip and Uncle Moe are already cleaning pups. And we do "Superdog" early neurological stimulation -- a little first taste of challenge for the puppies' developing brains and nervous systems.

The neonatal exercises
arose from the DoD's "biosensor" program -- an attempt to breed and develop a better military working dog -- in the 1970's. The "Superdog" breeding, developmental, conditioning and training protocols were mostly cloaked in obscurity -- possibly secrecy -- but a few consultants, including the late lamented Cap Haggerty, brought results and protocols out into the light. While the program itself was not a success -- whether due to errors in breeding selection, failure to follow up with appropriate socialization, training shortfalls, or the interaction of all three -- there was a general consensus that the neonatal conditioning, once initiated, improved the results within the program.

It takes only a few minutes a day. Used as directed it does no harm, and may do considerable good.

I've never seen photographs or video of the process, so here you go. Apologies for the poor video quality -- lighting is poor in our living room, and my video camera batteries were all dead, so we used my regular camera. Cutting off the puppies' heads is a YouTube issue -- they were properly framed in the original. My assistant didn't feel confident panning and zooming, so we put the camera on a tripod. And I wasn't sure that it was properly recording audio, so I didn't narrate what I was doing.

I know, I know -- paint drying. But it is fast-drying paint.

Some important points. No puppy is in any given position for more than five seconds. And you only do this once a day. (We couldn't do a second take yesterday for this video.)

One isn't evaluating puppies during this exercise. Whether puppy sleeps or squirms is of no consequence. This is neurological stimulation -- a little bit of challenge that the puppy would not normally get.

Two things I've noted over the course of five days:

• The puppies are responding much more vigorously to the head-down position, and are squirmier in general.

• The puppies are dramatically relaxing in the belly-up position, a little more each day. I don't know whether that can be attributed to the short stimulation sessions, or if it is due to all the snuggle time they spend in this position, in a lap or tucked under someone's chin. Their epic six days of experience on the part of the planet that is not the inside of their mother is already overriding their programmed reflex to right themselves when tits-up, at least when the touch and smell of a human being is part of the equation. This will stand them in good stead in their lives with people, no matter what jobs they hold.


* "Early in our observations of newborn puppies, we noticed that they did not seem to learn by experience. A puppy would fall to the edge of the scale platform, fall off, and begin to yelp in distress. When placed in the middle of the platform, it would do the same thing over again ... Some recent experiments (Stanley et al 1963) indicate that the puppy is capable of some degree of slow learning with regard to sucking. A puppy which is given milk after sucking a rubber nipple will eventually begin to suck more often than a puppy which is not so rewarded, and one that is given quinine instead of milk will eventually refuse to suck the nipple at all."

Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog, 1965, pp. 87-88.

** Before he went all woo-woo.

Friday, July 29, 2011


I have never quite grokked it when a woman complains that she is feeling "hormonal."

When a man makes a sub-simian crack about a woman along those lines, I just figure he's looking for a convenient excuse for why she ceased tolerating his bullshit and either gave him what was coming to him or is currently weeping/in a bubblebath behind a locked door. But why would a woman say this about herself? Accepting the patriarchal dismissal of her legitimate grievances? Does she need a copy of Right Wing Women more than a cup of chamomile and a Pamprin?

Me, I'm a contextual Raging Bitch From Hell. It's very easy to externalize that which calls forth The Dragon, because it was probably some gratuitous bullshit you just pulled, jackass. As for the weepies, I'm also from Leaky Irish stock, which knows no gender of phase of the moon. A sad television commercial can bring it on.*

But Rosie -- Rosie proves that one can be utterly and sincerely ruled by hormones.

The three weeks before she produced the Roseannadannas featured some of the hottest, most unforgiving weather I can remember. We also brought a teenage foster puppy into the pack for rehab work. Everyone had every reason to be crabby. Rosie is crabby and controlling with the other dogs as a baseline. Rosie would like me to inform you that she is not crabby or in any way a control freak, but merely committed to responding appropriately to Sophia and Moe and all new dogs' incomprehensible failure to line up and get with the fuckin' program.

So what did heat indices pushing 120° F, a new teenage dork-boy up in her grille, and the sudden eruption of a hot watermelon full of squirming aliens pressing against her liver do to Ebil Rosie?

Why, made her sweet** and tolerant, of course. What else would it do?

Oxytocin is a helluva drug.

On Monday, a few hours after her temperature dropped, she began a prolonged Stage I labor -- several days before I really expected it. Her new beatific tolerance for fooldogs did not exactly abate -- it's just that the other dogs fell off her radar for 21 hours, while she paced, dug, whined and panted.

I did not fall off the radar, and my presence was not optional. I slept in fitful snippets on a dog bed next to the whelping kiddie pool, to anchor Rosie to her assigned nest. And to be available when she needed to periodically crawl into my skin. What the hell is happening to me?! Mommy, I feel weird!

The moment the first puppy appeared, she understood what it was all about and was ready to assume her primal role as Ur Mommy. She expertly severed his umbilical cord and went to work cleaning and stimulating him.

So did I. Firstborn was not breathing.

The big, shiny, pink puppy didn't respond to resuscitation -- either his mother's traditional methods or the modern options available to a well-briefed primate doula with opposable thumbs and a tube of glucose. He looked perfectly good, but never drew a breath.

Rosie knew it wasn't right, but she also didn't know what right was supposed to be. I kept hoping for a second puppy to occupy her, but after twenty minutes I had to take her firstborn away from her. It was another twenty before a living squalling sibling appeared.

Until he did, Rosie periodically stared intently at the table where her firstborn lay inert, and cried out.

I don't know whether the immediate needs of a squirming, squalling infant causes a bitch to forget the inert one that the monkey took away, or whether she just becomes too busy to dwell on her loss, but still remembers. I hope for the former; it would be a uncharacteristic kindness of Nature.

As the night wore on, Rose produced four more healthy, squirming pups. Then a long and worrisome interval -- and a terrible presentation, one shoulder and tiny foot protruding. For a brief and horrifying moment I thought I was seeing a headless puppy. The sable runt's head was folded back onto his chest; I pushed him back to free it. Released, the tiny, skinny puppy seemed much more dead than his firstborn brother. Rosie and I worked on him, and another moribund brother quickly appeared; I woke up PC, who worked on that one while I gave Little Man a drop of glucose and chest compressions and his mother licked his face, and licked, and licked, and then Little Man gasped, and gaped, and breathed. But he did not move -- his little legs did not pump, and his Gumbied neck could not support his head.

The brother who had been held up in passage was blue-grey and full of fluid and not coming back. Just bad luck.

A sister emerged, squalling, and then Rosie just knew that she was finished, message received from the same mysterious set of chemical switches that had told her that she was starting; but this time, she knew what was finished. I put Little Man under her neck so he could pass his life in warmth and love, and we both lost consciousness for an hour or so. When I woke up, expecting another dead puppy, he was crawling and squalling and moving his head. He was half the size of his biggest siblings, but he could suckle. It could happen.

Rosie is not the relaxed and world-tolerant dam her mother was. She fretted. Not only wouldn't let her best buddies come into the room, but was vexed about them being on the other side of a gate or outside on the deck. It was near-impossible to get her outside to powder her nose. She'd even nose my hand aside when I touched the puppies; no implied threat, just firm persistence. If a puppy squeaked, she looked for someone to blame.

Little Man squeaked the most, and he squeaked differently from his siblings. He suckled, but did not gain. His ribs showed. He got cold in the middle of the pile-up. He worried her. He worried me. I called the vet and arranged to bring him by to measure a feeding tube. Tucked him under his sleeping mother and went out to milk the goats, so I'd have fresh warm supplemental formula for him. The least I could do, and the most I should. To bully Life where she does not wish to abide only delays and magnifies and perhaps delegates suffering and heartbreak.

I'm grateful he completed his brief pass through this world asleep and snuggled up to his mother's fur, and not in a vet's cold exam room or a box in the car.

For the little sable fighter, and his two unlucky brothers -- both Rosie and I have remained rather hormonal, if not so anxious as before. Rosie passed the next two days with her six fat healthy pups who hardly ever squeak, shedding some of her worry. Has she been more fretful and paranoid than her own mother because the gain is set too high on her ruling hormones -- or because of the grief of losing babies, something Pip never experienced? She seems to find her six healthy puppies more precious and vulnerable.

I occasionally hear of helpful people who declare that a mother who miscarries or loses an infant at birth can't or doesn't, or shouldn't, grieve the loss "as if" she'd bonded with the baby. You know, you can always make another one.

Rosie made six on the same damned day, and still ...

I know I am "hormonal" over those lost babies. Dwelling on the lost potential and what ifs. Thinking of our Mel, resuscitated at birth by her breeder, and how much poorer the world would be today if she'd never drawn that breath and gone on and made her mark on so many lives and hearts, lives she saved, not metaphorically, literally saved them from imminent death. Then I look at Rosie and her treasured brood, how protective she is of them surrounded by love and safety, and think of the unimaginably sad life of a puppymill brood bitch, and what it would be like to need to protect one's babies while trapped in a wire cage, surrounded by barking and chaos, no one rubbing your ears and telling you how beautiful your babies are and what a good Mommy you are, no one hand-feeding you balls of ground beef or bringing you fresh goat's milk and homemade chicken stock, just a hopper of Old Roy hanging from the wire, and a hamster bottle, and good luck with that. You can go down that pathway into a very dark and tangled forest, with grief driving at your heels.

Friday morning PC told me that she left the pups for several minutes and accompanied him on morning chores. "I think she's bored."

But no, that wasn't it at all. The Hormones had spoken again, and they were very specific this time.

After breakfast she started trotting around the house and yard. She greeted her mother as if someone else had enforced a separation. I could see her casing the joint. Because Day Four is Moving Day.

When her mother declared Moving Day eight years ago, one of Rosie's half-brothers† suffered a lot of indignity and wear while we argued. Pip was adamant that puppies belonged in the bedroom closet; I, as the opposable-thumbed higher mammal, was equally adamant that they belonged in the whelping box in the family room. After several hours of serial head-butting, we finally came to a compromise. I cleared all the shoes out of the closet, moved the puppies exactly where she wanted them, and she did exactly the hell as she wished.

On the next Moving Day, four years later, I snapped to it the moment Pip trotted down the hallway with the first protesting pup.‡

Rosie selected a corner of the living room, bounded by the end of the futon sofa and the raised brick hearth. My end-table and monkey lamp were evicted, I vacuumed and fashioned puppy containment, and then did her bidding. It's really a rather spiffy den, good choice, in with the family but out of the way, convenient to the regularly forthcoming meatballs and bowls of yogurt. She's allowing Gramma Pip and Uncle Moe to check out the little ones, and they are all an easy reach from the sofa and my chair. It's like having a mini-fridge built into the Laz-E-Boy, only with warm puppies instead of cold beers.

Snuggled down after a long day, a round, shiny, milky-smelling being who has only ever known love and warmth and safety tucked between neck and shoulder, trusting belly to the sky, tiny pink paws on my cheek, all the accumulated strains sublimate off into the ether. The world is, briefly, perfect.

Must be the hormones.


* I was going to post the link to the Iams dog food commercial featuring the child/girl/young woman and the Irish setter named Casey. You know the one. It is inexplicably not on YouTube or anywhere else on the web. (wipes tear)

** She's always "sweet" to people, in the "It's really your idea to keep petting me indefinitely and also you should tell me how pretty and smart I am just now" kind of way.

† It's been my experience that on Moving Day, the same pup gets picked up over and over if Ur Momma is thwarted. They never choose a different pup.

‡ For those who have never raised pups from birth: this does not present the kind of sanitation challenges one might imagine. Birth is, as with any mammal, a gooey, messy affair. Puppies three weeks and up are a very messy affair. But neonates are clean and shiny little things, induced eliminators whose mothers handle the hygiene. By the time they start toddling it's generally possible to move them to the containment facility of one's choice without incurring the implacable resistance of Ur Momma.