Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New Teeth, New Muscles

Now, there was a whole lot of personality in this dog when I went and saw his litter. He stood out to me that first day, and he did it again when I went back. But every day, there's a little more focus in those dark eyes, a little more coordination in his movements, and so that personality comes out more and more.

Not that coordinated, though. We've definitely hit the stage where the ears don't quite behave.

Ahhh, age appropriate chew toys. At around three months, pups start to lose those sharp baby teeth (milk teeth). This is the stage at which shoes, sunglasses, or anything else expensive and saturated with owner smell is in serious peril. The trick is to give him something even more fun than a shoe, and when he goes for the wrong thing, switch it to the appropriate, fun toy.

Gus had this slightly minty rope toy for a couple of years and never took much interest, but after a few days of chewing, Comet's done some serious damage to it. He was also able to demolish the end of a belt during about thirty seconds of inattention from us. But that's the only puppy teething sacrifice we've had to deal with so far.

We also had a chance to head up to school to play with Weezie. Comet can't quite keep up with two full-speed, adult retrievers, but the camera was able to catch Weezie and Gus as they blazed by.

Where would we be without the requisite scratching photo? I love the intense concentration a good scratch requires. I've also noticed that, for some reason, he likes to make eye contact while he does it. Maybe he's asking for help or permission. Either way, it's cute.

This last week has also seen some great development of musculature. It's becoming clearer by the day that Comet's going to be a powerful, agile dog.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Joy in the Genes

Holler out "Come!" and this is what you get. Training Comet to do this started with Lisa, the breeder. She would take the puppies into the yard, individually, and pre-train this behavior. She would stamp her feet, whistle, and clap, and when the dog came over to check out the fun, she'd praise him.

Teaching a Golden to come is a matter of confirming a natural tendency that's hard-wired into a retrieving dog. He feels good coming back to a friend; he feels natural. When he's little, you whistle, clap, and stamp, and when he comes over, you throw a little party for him. He soon learns that coming is super fun.

So nowadays, just whistle or call out "Comet, come!" and he comes over and gives the little wiggle and sit that proclaims, "Look how good I am!"

Not everything is all that coordinated. Sometimes a turn or an attempt to return get a little complicated. Or, he could be working on a little do-si-do. You never know.

We take lots of opportunities to practice come, for both dogs. Gus has a tendency to become slightly hard of hearing when things are really interesting, so it's good to take the time to drill him in what's expected. Comet, as is his tendency lately, explodes into action once he knows what he's supposed to be doing.

Here's evidence of another genetically hard-wired behavior. Just as the golden color breeds true in most or all of these dogs, be it light or dark, the retriever appelation is apt as well. Comet has taken to falling in love with a stick and carrying it for quite a while. Some of them get moved close to a mile from their original locations before he loses interest or finds a new toy.

It's really quite considerate of him to find a toy that's cheap, ubiquitous, and healthy on the teeth.

What would a good walk be without a little scratching time? As I try to snap shots of him in a particularly cute sit, it often turns out that his reason for sitting is to address an itch. Initially, I had the urge to toss these scratchy photos as errors, mistakes, documents of unflattering moments. But the string of them has begun to amuse me very deeply, and I'm starting to realize that in the middle of an almost self-conscious scratch, he can be at his cutest.

After a long day of coming, running, playing, itching, and carrying, it's time to head home. It's a rather short trip from the water company property back to the house, but Comet took the opportunity to relax a bit. In one way, this photo is a total success: it captures that far-off, introspective look that Comet (and Gus) sometimes gets. I don't like to personify dogs; in fact, I like to remind myself that a dog has his own unique psychology and that mistaking him for a person on the inside can cause both misery for the dog and for his master.

So I doubt there's anything so human as introspection occurring here, but I know it's not sadness, and I know it's not just exhaustion, and it's rarely a prelude to sleep. It does invite introspection in me, so maybe that's why I identify it that way.

I'm lucky to spend time with two animals who know better than I do how to enjoy and embrace every smell, every texture, every lake (even at 35 degrees), and every paw's contact with cold soil. When they flash gold in the sun, I lose, just a little bit, just for a moment, some of my self-consciousness, my worry over the ten thousand things I haven't finished or haven't done well. And in that little space we've made, there's at least a fragment of simple, unabashed joy.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Itching, Growing, Winning

It's possible that Comet isn't a huge fan of his collar or that he has a spot of dry skin on his neck, but lately he's taken to stopping for a scratch at hilariously random intervals. He doesn't do it particularly hard, or for long at all, but he does enjoy these scratches.

It occurs to me that he's growing into all that extra skin, which may somehow be an itchy process.

Of course, whether you're scratching or not, it's important to listen to your elders. I didn't realize until the camera froze the action that Comet is really quite surprised and attentive when Gus barks at him during a romp. Or maybe it just looks that way.

The dogs are trained, or rather, Gus is trained and Comet is being trained, to return to a particular whistle. While Comet's already amazing at coming to an actual call of "come," he's still figuring out the whistle, so there's a brief period of deep, deep thinking before he runs over to check in. This delay results in some rather hilarious photos when Gus gets a good head start.

Comet is, of course, getting the hang of it as he goes along. Once he figures out what's expected of him, he's pretty enthusiastic about doing his job. Wait until we translate this enthusiasm over to fetching...

Can you see his gait developing?

On your left, January 12th. On your right, today, February 11th. Comet can get a lot done in thirty days.

We got a lot of photos in today. Another highlight was one of Comet's first victories in the perpetual Golden Retriever battle to accrue more sticks and toys than the opposition.

Comet finds a good stick and settles down to chew. Gus plots his attack. Cue the dramatic cellos.

Gus strikes! Comet reacts! The titanic beasts struggle for control of the precious stick—which, in retrospect, may have been a chunk of mulch.

I bet you thought the older dog was going to win. Somehow, Comet kept a hold on the stick. Gus, who honestly does prefer tennis balls, has an easy time pretending he wasn't interested in the stick in the first place.

Comet is doing just about his proudest strut.