The Magical Heathen Puppy
Rhys turned seven months old earlier this week. While he is still very much a puppy and will be for a while, it’s often hard for me to think of him on such immature terms. For several months now he so often seems like a Big Dog. Of course then he’ll go and do something that quickly brings me to my senses, but he has this amazing aura about him.
On the evening that he became seven months old, Rhys made a decision.
Before I tell you about that decision, I’m going to relate that I am fond of encouraging my dogs to make decisions. They are not always decisions I am fond of and sometimes we battle a bit about those decisions. There are quite frankly times when I do not like their decisions and they are told so. However, in encouraging some independent decision-making I often find that good choices can be made. It helps that I am fond of herding dogs, a breed-type that was selectively bred for years prior to confirmation types mucking them up for good decision-making abilities. Besides, they are still dogs and I am still a Human and there is still a whole lot of their lives that I control.
That particular night, Rhys came upstairs when I called for the dogs and informed them that it was “time for bed.” The three Big Dogs understand this routine and willingly come upstairs – if they aren’t already – settle into their respective spots and prepare for slumber. Rhys also understands what this phrase means, but more often than not, he’d rather stay up late. Since my days of staying up past 11 pm, much less past midnight, are generally far and few between now, I often find I have to encourage Rhys to come upstairs by either grabbing his collar and marching him upstairs and into his crate or enticing him upstairs with a few bits of kibble and then tossing the bits into his crate.
When he willingly came upstairs this night, Rhys jumped up onto my bed with Youke and Camm. Brady prefers to sleep either in his dog bed in my bedroom or beside the bed on the floor. He’ll sometimes come up for a while, but he never stays. The only exception is if we’re experiencing a thunderstorm or fireworks are going off. Then he is mashed as tightly as he can get into my body, preferably with his head tucked under my chin or resting cheek to cheek until the cacophony is over.
I figured I’d let Rhys stay on the bed while I washed my face and brushed my teeth. He’s proven of late that he can often be quiet while I perform this nighttime ritual, instead of trying to keep the party going as he attempted to do only a few short months before – by chewing on pillows, the bedspread or my slippers, or engaging Camm in some frisky play on top of the bed while Youke glared at the two of them and did a low growl. Not that Youke’s clear communication of offense was heeded.
When I emerged from the bathroom, I did not see a bright-eyed seven month old puppy pleading with me to stay up a bit longer. Instead, I saw a 35-pound dog sprawled out on the bed, snoring away and fast asleep.
I was amazed. We’d had a fairly uneventful day and while we’d gone out in early evening as we often do, our walk had been relatively short, 45 to 60 minutes only and to a less than exciting place.
I padded to the bed to take the pillow shams off and to set my alarm. He did not move.
Rhys was also in the exact same spot of the bed where Jasmine always slept and was in the identical position as the one she assumed when she went to bed.
I figured there was some sort of cosmic message in that and decided to let him stay on the bed. I thought that he could stay at least until he became restless and naughty, at which point he’d need to go into his bedtime crate, which has been in my bedroom and has been the same crate he’s slept in since I brought him home.
I eased into bed, configured my legs between Rhys and Camm, Youke in his spot against my side and slept with three dogs again for the first time since Jasmine died.
Here’s the thing. Rhys did not become restless and naughty. Rather, he slept deeply and soundly all night long, snoring softly – because he does and has since he was eight weeks old. Sometimes he feels like a cat purring with his soft snoring.
My alarm woke us all up, including Rhys, when it went off at 8 am.
Instead of the frantic and annoying barking he does when in his crate when I awaken in the morning, Rhys stood up and plopped himself across my body, licking and kissing me a good morning message.
I wondered if it was a fluke and what he’d do on the following evening.
Last night, he again came upstairs, jumped on the bed and made it pretty clear he was not going to sleep in his crate. Message received.
However, after turning of the lights and crawling into bed, I could feel Rhys get up. I made out his shadowy form, with his head cocked and listening to the sounds coming in through the open window. I listened too, especially when he started a low, soft growl. His growl was answered by Brady’s similar low and soft growl. Often Brady expresses his displeasure about things – nighttime things being restless movement or loud noises – with low growls. But while it at first sounded like Brady was warning Rhys to keep his opinions to himself, Brady’s tone changed and it seemed apparent to me that they were both perturbed by 1) a distant dog barking, 2) a distant coyote howling, 3) a car slowly driving by, and 4) a faint fluttering coming from a tree.
I asked Rhys to be quiet and to lie down. He did become quiet, but he chose to jump down from the bed. Ah, this is it, I thought. It was too good to be true. He’s going to grab some tissue from the bathroom wastebasket or start mauling my slipper, I guessed.
Rhys settled into another of the dog beds in the bedroom, actually underneath the window, and fell asleep. I soon heard his soft snoring.
I am theorizing that Rhys is experimenting with what will work for him in terms of bedtime positioning.
I’m fine with that and with what his ultimate decision will be. Regardless, it does not appear that the crate will be among the options.
I spoke earlier about Rhys’s aura. Maybe that’s not quite the right word, but he has an amazing calm and confident demeanor about him, especially for one so young. He is also very good about reading other dogs and adapting appropriately. I’ve been surprised and pleased with how he adapts his play and greetings between puppies younger and smaller than himself, small dogs, big dogs, adult dogs, playful adult dogs and not so playful adult dogs.
Even with Big Grumpy BrotherUncle Brady, Rhys knows when to stay away from him, when to playfully shoulder check him and when to offer some gesture of appeasement.
Brady was being a huge grump the other night, grousing at the other dogs, while at the same time continually shoving his head into my armpit for reassurance. Rhys was feeling very affectionate as well and decided to hop onto the couch with me. Brady sneered at him. Rhys pulled back, but then tenderly and very sweetly dipped his head and barely touched his nose to Brady’s head. Brady seemed surprised, Rhys did it again. Brady laid down on the floor beside me after that and relaxed.
Then, Rhys pulled something similar with me. I really didn’t want a wiggly 35-pound behemoth on top of my chest as I was trying to chill and watch TV, the first time in weeks it felt like. He turned his head to my face, looked at me with an expression that was at the same time sweet, but also inscrutable, and pressed his paws around my neck. Before I knew it, I was laying down on the couch, with an adolescent border collie spread across me and softly vibrating with his soft snore. I have no idea what was on TV. All I knew was that I was smiling and gazing down on the sleek head of an adolescent border collie that had magically lulled my spinning and overactive mind.
And yet, Rhys is still an adolescent. Not just an adolescent, but an outright Heathen. Yes. With a capital H.
And honestly, there is no one to fault for this but myself.
I’ve mentioned a few seemingly innocuous actions such as Rhys jumping on the bed or jumping on the couch. But he jumps on other things as well.
For instance. I indulged and bought myself a nice lounge chair for my deck this summer. Correction. I bought Rhys a nice lounge chair.
This is tame though. He also discovered that garbage cans make lovely perches.
And if one stands on the garbage can, they can also peer over the top of the six-foot fence.
The garbage can has been moved
I do not have photographic evidence though of Rhys running into the kitchen at a recent agility club event and launching himself onto a table to help himself of some tasty culinary items. An observant, and surprised, friend caught him before he could make off with any tasty items.
No one caught him though when he launched himself onto a picnic table some 30 minutes later and snatched an unattended cheeseburger.
Some people at the event seemed very offended.
I’ll admit to a slight moment of shame at the heathen I am raising. But it was quickly overcome by giggles.
I suppose I should train this dog.
So, unlike with Youke where I went full out helicopter mom and had him doing umpteen tricks before a year old and had enrolled him in several classes and could barely contain myself before he started agility lessons (at least I did wait until he was a year old before I started him on anything resembling agility) and then entered him in his first real agility competition at 18 months old – because he was going to be my agility champion, damnit Jim! – I vowed to take the super laid back approach with my next puppy when the time came. So the time is here and I’m sticking to that vow.
Rhys did attend one puppy kindergarten class, but I think we missed half of the session due to my prior engagements. I really didn’t care. I can teach, and have taught to some degree, the basics of “sit” and “down. ” I’ve worked on recall with him intensely since day one as something told me that was going to be super important with Mr. Independent. And I always teach a “wait” behavior and work on impulse control stuff just as a form of play or through play. I even taught Rhys a trick. He knows how to “shake paw.” We started working on “roll over” and spinning left and spinning right, but then I sort of forgot about it.
At the urging of one of my agility instructors I enrolled Rhys in a foundation class after she promised me I did not have to show him any equipment. I’m sticking to my guns and this dog is not doing anything with any agility equipment until he’s a year old at the very least. The foundation class has been fun and focuses more on handling exercises and flatwork for both me and for Rhys. My main goal though was to have Rhys in a setting where he had to “work” when and where other dogs were working as well.
And on that note, I recently enrolled Rhys in a Control Unleashed class. I loved doing Control Unleashed with Youke some eight years ago. The stuff I learned in that class I still employ with all of my dogs today.
We’ve had two classes so far and I think both of us have thoroughly enjoyed them. Rhys of course gets massive amounts of treats – kibble and bits of cheese mostly, but some Cheerios-type things from Trader Joe’s and bites of dried rabbit or bison as well. And I get to play with him, while also strengthening some of the stuff he’s already learned through everyday life with me and adding some new skills.
In the next several months I’ll probably do some more Control Unleashed classes with him just to keep him working around other dogs, but if the present holds, he understands being in “work mode” and that being able to perform tasks around other dogs, even highly aroused ones, isn’t a major deal. Such is the wonder of the well bred working dog.
I’m not sure if there are special classes for table jumping, food grabbing opportunistic dogs though. I might have to actually work on that myself.
And while on the subject of training and competition, I’ve also vowed that Rhys will not enter a competition for real until he is at the very least two years old. Youke was, and is, an old soul in many ways, but he was too young and too ill-prepared to have entered competition at 18 months old. That was completely my fault and a mistake I’ve vowed not to repeat.
Mostly, I want Rhys to spend his first year learning about becoming a solid canine citizen while also having a grand time playing and exploring his world. And if that means he jumps on a few picnic tables, well, physical ability and fearlessness are valued in canine performance sports, right?
Oops. I guess that maybe I do encourage the picnic table jumping thing …
- My apologies for the lack of any blog updates of late. Ironically, it’s not as if I had nothing to say, but more like too much to say. My brain has been spinning of late. Unlike writers’ block though, in my case, too many ideas or too much to say creates a logjam. I also have a puppy, which is pretty much my excuse for everything that does and doesn’t happen in 2017. I’ve been releasing some of the day-to-day stuff in personal Facebook posts and by posting a plethora of pictures, but I promise to get back to more regular blog updates, now that I’ve done a bit of tweaking and have re-named the blog.