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.


  1. I'm watching this with tears of joy.

    What a wonderful outcome for Cole.

  2. Cole is a pisser, what a great family role to have! The pups are really looking very handsome.

  3. Watching him interact with the pups, you'd never know that he previously had "issues" with other dogs. He looks like he's having a blast, and so are the pups!

  4. Absolutely fascinating. That video reminded me just how much Dog I don't speak - some of the interactions were crystal clear, but there was obviously so much more conversation going on that I can't understand or just plain missed.

    But boy, the grin on Cole's face is priceless. And the puppies reactions to their mama is also priceless. (The little one waving his paw at her? OMG!)

    Kudos for your ability to remain a silent observer throughout. With cuteness that profound, I would have been right there in the mix, ruining the canine interaction.

  5. Has he brought them the blue bear yet? Cole fascinates me, melts my heart, makes me want to stand up and cheer for humanity, and makes me immensely proud to know you (even if only thru the interwebz).

    Lots of good mojo in that little black & white beastie.


  6. That was truly beautiful -- filled with joy for all of them, especially Cole.

  7. It's hard to believe Cole was a dog with "issues". Maybe it was because he is just so incredibly handsome, and he needed a sensible owner and pack to put him in his place.

    The videos and your blog are a continuing delight. Thanks so much for your insight (and the inside view).

  8. Heather, aside from being carefully integrated into your balanced pack, how did Cole get cured of his intraspecies aggression?

  9. Truthfully, that was about it.

    After he'd dropped the 'tude with my guys, and with the ONB fosters who arrived here a few weeks after he did, and after he'd had a couple of weeks of formal obedience (not even every day) sessions in town -- crowd work, with dogs going by at various distances as chance offered -- it was pretty much gone.

    The first strange dog he met nose-to-nose was Bella, the little buckskin pibble shop dog at a gift shop on town. Perfectly well-balanced and mannerly dog. She said "Hey," he said "Hey," and all was copacetic.

    And that's pretty much how it has been.

    He still goes berserker, or wants to, for young unruly German shepherds -- because of inappropriate generalizing from Sophia + one that tried to eat him at a SAR conference -- which we are working on.

  10. What a delight to watch. Not one bit too long, would have enjoyed more.

  11. Everybody should have an Uncle Cole! He's going to teach them all kinds of naughty things - may turn a few of them into little hellions like himself :)

    I am just amazed at how great he has turned out. It's hard for me to connect the stories about the puppy who terrorized the others to this delightful, well-socialized dog. Great job Heather, Ken & The Pack!


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