Pyrrha’s best Christmas ever (Part I)

We had a very busy Christmas, and I’d like to say it was Pyrrha’s “best Christmas ever,” because she seemed to be so happy and confident (most of the time)!

Christmas shepherd is all tuckered out.

Part I: Visiting my in-laws and the house of three dogs (Pyrrha, Georgia, and Adelaide)

Having three young dogs in a small, one-story house lends itself to craziness, but I was proud of all three dogs: Pyrrha, Georgia (my in-laws’ 1-year-old “petite golden retriever”), and Adelaide (my brother- and sister-in-law’s 5-year-old cockapoo).

Christmas 2013
All three dogs clamoring for treats from Papa Mike.

Particularly, I was proud of how well Pyrrha and Adelaide did together.

Christmas 2013
Adelaide!
Guard dog cockapoo. #thinksshespeople @tracydare @windleypratt
Guard dog cockapoo.

Both P and Adelaide are anxious dogs, and when they first met, they seemed to make each other more anxious. Pyrrha seemed especially perturbed by Adelaide’s body language, as it is quite hard to read (her eyes are hidden by hair, her tail is docked very short, and she is quite small).

Christmas 2013
Adelaide with her grandfather.

This time around, they coexisted much more smoothly. There were a few exchanges of growls from time to time when one of them felt cornered, but overall, I felt like I was able to relax a lot more and not have to constantly keep tabs on Pyrrha during our stay.

Adelaide wore a Thundershirt during busier days, and that also seemed to help her a lot. She seems to really enjoy wearing it and even gets excited when Win (her human dad) pulls it out. Adelaide and Pyrrha figured out how to maneuver around each other, and they even laid near each other on separate occasions. They were also pals on our walks, always running to sniff the same spot.

Christmas 2013
Adelaide in her Thundershirt, checking out the presents.
Christmas 2013
Brother Win giving some love to Adelaide and Pyrrha.

Georgia and Pyrrha remain great playmates, and they wore each other out during our stay. Georgia never seems to tire of throwing herself at Pyrrha’s face and inviting a wrestling match. It’s pretty adorable.

Christmas 2013
G and P on guard.
Christmas 2013
G and A.

We also got to take the pups on lots of walks around the neighborhood, which they all very much enjoyed.

Christmas 2013

Christmas 2013

Christmas 2013
Love Georgia’s little photo-bomb here.
Christmas 2013
Her ambivalent ears.

A house full of happy, largely peaceable dogs: No better way to spend a holiday!

Coming up next: A recap of our Christmas, Part II!

A three-dog family vacation

Our Labor Day weekend was very pleasant, and we spent our days doing a lot of dog-wrangling, as we ended up with a three-dog household.

My brother-in-law and soon-to-be sister-in-law brought along their 4-year-old cockapoo Adelaide!

Adelaide
Adelaide!

Adelaide is such a sweet little thing. She has a tendency toward nervousness, and gets particularly anxious about men, but she’s very cuddly and much more willing to warm up to them over time than Pyrrha is.

Adelaide makes it hard to tell which end is which. #thisisarealdog #cockapoo
Hard to tell which end is which.

She was a bit nervous coming into the house, which is absolutely fair, seeing as it was being run by crazy-dogs Georgia and Pyrrha. Although they eventually brokered a peace (which meant just ignoring each other), Adelaide and Pyrrha continued to make each other anxious throughout our weekend visit.

I think there were a few things going on:

  1. Adelaide and Pyrrha are both anxious dogs. Anxious dogs just tend to make each other more anxious.
  2. Size differential. Pyrrha has a good 45–55 lbs. on Adelaide, and she can also been kind of pushy/gregarious in her play. This, naturally, made Adelaide pretty fearful about her.
  3. Mixed signals. Adelaide, as you can see, is hard to decipher; her eyes are not visible and she has no tail to speak of. Pyrrha was throwing play bows at her, but this usually just solicited growls from Adelaide, and Pyrrha often didn’t have the sense to back off, and instead would growl back, creating a situation that we often had to intervene in.

All of these issues aside, however, Adelaide and Pyrrha were able to coexist peacefully by calculated avoidance of one another. They could pass by each other calmly and walk around the yard together without incident, so we were all assuaged by that (even though I continued to keep a very close eye on Pyrrha).

Georgia and Pyrrha, meanwhile, continued to be bosom buddies and playmates.

Georgia dog
Georgia, that little sprite!
Girl talk
Sharing secrets.

Adelaide was happy to observe and get the lay of the land.

Adelaide

Adelaide and her dad
Adelaide and her dad.

Watching Adelaide eat

Too lazy to play? #pyrrhagram #georgiadog #puppylove

All in all, I think we’re happy that the family dogs get along, now that we have all three of them in the mix! I hope Pyrrha and Adelaide will continue to get more comfortable with each other as time goes on.

Summoning the dogs
Summoned by the Keeper of the Treats (aka my father-in-law).

Soon enough, we were on our way home, although I’m sure Pyrrha missed all the action and her playmates.

Road tripping it. #pyrrhagram

Such a good traveler. Ready to be home! #gsd #germanshepherdHope you all enjoyed equally fun and pleasant weekends!

Leaving Pyrrha at home with new people

Lounging around the house

This weekend, my brother-in-law, Win, and his girlfriend, Tracy, came to stay with us. This was their first time meeting Pyrrha, and they, both being “dog people,” were very excited.

Tracy has a shy cockapoo named Adelaide, so she was already well-versed in the language of shy dogs, and Pyrrha took to her very quickly. I’d even go so far as to say that Pyrrha developed something of a crush on Tracy. Pyr followed her around all weekend, took to lavishly kissing her legs and toes, trying to play with her, sit beside her at every given moment. I daresay the rest of us got a little jealous.

We had several events this past weekend, and so Win and Tracy graciously agreed to let her out and feed her dinner while we were away. I wasn’t sure how it would go. The last time we asked a “stranger” to watch Pyrrha, she wouldn’t come out of her crate or eat and was cowering in fear.

But when we got home, they happily reported that she was as calm as could be, ate when Win fed her, and went out when Tracy asked her to. I was delighted. A small victory, perhaps, but I like to count every one. They’re always little reminders of how far Pyrrha has come and how far she still has to go.

Why “designer dog breeds” make me uncomfortable

Labradoodle. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

“Designer dogs” are increasingly in vogue. It’s not uncommon to see a labradoodle or a goldendoodle–big dogs who look like animated Muppets–galloping down the street. Cockapoos, maltipoos, anything with a “-poo” suffix are a dime a dozen these days. Puggles have entered into mainstream consciousness. The dogs are always cute. They seem happy. But I admit that I always get a little uncomfortable when I meet someone who owns and intentionally sought out a “designer dog” breed.

Here’s why.

What bothers me is NOT that people are making “new breeds.” People have been doing that for centuries. The majority of breeds recognized by the AKC today were the “designer dogs” from Victorian England. I get that and I’m not distressed by it. What really bugs me about designer dogs is that they are bred solely for cuteness and convenience. This also means that the majority of “designer dogs” are bred by puppy mills. The goal of these breeding facilities is to churn out these fluffy puppies as fast as possible to get them into the hands of the insatiable and regrettably unscrupulous public.

Maltipoo. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Just a few months ago, I ran into a young woman about my age who was walking what appeared to be an animated stuffed animal. The cream-colored fluff ball on a pink line weighed all of two pounds. I asked her if I could pet him, and she said yes. She told me that he was a five-month-old maltipoo, which she chose because “it’d fit well in my little apartment.” Yes, the little creature made my heart nearly burst with how adorable and tiny he was, but as I walked away, I couldn’t help but feeling sad that this animal had been micro-sized just for human convenience.

In 2007, the New York Times ran an article on the explosion of designer dog breeds and examined the prime profit-maker for these franken-puppies: The giant puppy mill, paradoxically named Puppy Haven Kennel, in Wisconsin. (Mercifully, about a year after this article was published, the Wisconsin Humane Society bought the puppy mill and sought to re-home the 1,100 dogs it rescued.)

The article makes the link between the existence of these terrible mills and the public demand for cute, convenient dogs. The writer cites Katherine C. Grier, a cultural historian and author of Pets in America, who says:

 “The dogness of dogs has become problematic. We want an animal that is, in some respects, not really an animal. You’d never have to take it out. It doesn’t shed. It doesn’t bark. It doesn’t do stuff.”

In the busy 21st century, people want dogs who act more like cats: They should be small, fastidious, independent, and require little attention or training. It’s a nice idea, but that’s not really a dog. But people promote and market “designer dogs” as if they were all of these things, as if they were nothing more than a new lamp to go with your living room, like this appalling article suggests. They’re “hypoallergenic”! (A myth that has been debunked.) They don’t make any noise! They don’t shed! They’ll never need any training! These are not dogs. These are glorified stuffed animals.

Any time we mass produce an animal to fit our own flights of fancy, we’re doing a grave injustice and we should be ashamed of ourselves. In a country that demands instant gratification and convenience, it’s no wonder that we have designer dogs and puppy mills around every corner. I only wonder if this is something that will ever change.

What I learned this week

Cockapoo Puppies
A cockapoo. Source: Flickr, user: melmansur

This weekend, we went to Raleigh for my brother-in-law’s college graduation. I got a bit of time with two dogs there: his housemate’s lab, Sally, and his girlfriend’s cockapoo, Adelaide.

Sally is a two-year-old yellow labrador retriever. She lives in a house with four college guys and so she’s developed an exceptional level of noise tolerance. The first time I met Sally, she was a nine-week-old puppy who was being passed around at a Superbowl party like a bowl of chips. She was pretty sleepy most of the time but handled it all gracefully. Today, Sally is a large, sleek young adult who is smart and devoted. The boys in the house do spend a lot of time with her and have trained her to do a variety of party tricks. She can speak and bow on command and will do just about anything to get her beloved tennis ball.

What I learned from watching Sally, though, was the importance of consistency in cues. I felt frustrated for poor Sally. A new trick she was learning was balancing a tennis ball on her snout and then catching it with a command. Different guys would come up to her and try to get her to perform this task, but often unsuccessfully. I think Sally was totally capable of performing, but the poor dog was so confused. Win, my brother-in-law, gave her the command “hold” while he balanced the ball on her nose. But there were a dozen people moving around and eating in the room and I think Sally was too distracted to perform. Two other guys tried this trick with Sally after Win. The first guy kept telling her “stay” while he held the ball over her nose and the other one gave her the cue “don’t move.” Poor Sally isn’t fluent in English. She didn’t know that these words all meant the same thing. Consistency is key in training; we often forget that dogs don’t speak English and don’t often understand our verbally complex or confusing requests.

Adelaide is a two-year-old black cockapoo who belongs to Tracy, my brother-in-law’s girlfriend. I went over to Tracy’s apartment to meet Adelaide and take her out before we went to a party. She’s a small mop who is so dark that it’s almost impossible to see her black eyes under her curly black fur. Adelaide was very submissive when I met her and so I tried not to reach down or over her when we met; rather, I crouched down a few feet from her and held out my hand for her to sniff and greet me on her own terms. After that initial contact, she was very snuggly and wanted to climb up into my lap.

Tracy shared Adelaide’s back story with me. I suspected that Adelaide might not have benefited from good parentage, since small breed mixes are very often farmed out in puppy mills or by irresponsible backyard breeders. Tracy saw a sign for puppies on the side of the road in her hometown and quickly found herself staring at a puppy mill. She said that Adelaide was kept in a small cage with seven other dogs. The man let out the puppies and Adelaide crawled on top of Tracy’s feet and looked at her. Tracy was heartbroken and conflicted. She was witnessing how terrible and unethical puppy mills were, and yet her heart was drawn to this abused little puppy.

Tracy took Adelaide home and began her long work of training and rehabilitation. Adelaide had some serious food aggression issues, which are quite common to puppies from puppy mills, who have to fight their cage-mates if they want to get enough to eat. She was also extremely fearful of men and is still very wary around them today. Tracy has worked with Adelaide through most of these issues, but she admitted to me that it hasn’t always been easy and she might have made some different choices had she known then what she knows now.

I felt very conflicted about Adelaide’s story. On one hand, I’d never want to give any money to the frankly evil people who run puppy mills. On the other hand, you have to wonder what will happen to these sick, abused dogs. Who else might end up with them? It’s very likely that some other unscrupulous person might end up with these maltreated puppies.

I don’t really have the answers on these questions, but I think about them often. For more information, read the ASPCA’s list of 10 ways you can help fight puppy mills. It’s high time this grotesque phenomenon of the mass production of pets ended.