Ring My Bell

Last night we started a new project in our house.  Or rather, a new training exercise…

Up until now, Kona’s method to let us know that she needed to go outside consisted of her sitting patiently at the back door and staring at us.  It works well, provided that either myself or P are paying attention.  Unfortunately, if we are in the family room we can’t see the door and sometimes when we are in the kitchen we are busy cooking or cleaning. 

It hasn’t been a big problem, but twice in the past month Kona has had an accident resulting from us not responding quickly enough.  And by accident, I mean she’s given up on waiting and decided to pee inside the house, in front of the back door. 

Needless to say we aren’t pleased and we decided to train her to use a different signal.  While she does bark on command (our girl knows her “speak” and “quiet” very well) we didn’t want her to think she should bark when she wants something.  We’ve heard of dogs ringing bells to let owners know they need to go out and we decided to go this route.

My initial thought was “why didn’t we think of this a month ago?” as I wasn’t sure how many places stock bells this time of year.  Luckily, I discovered that bells are a favourite bird toy (and inexpensive – bonus!) so I picked up this one from Petsmart.  It’s not that loud, so I’m not sure whether we’ll keep this in the long run, but its good enough to get us started. 

There are lots of websites with instructions on how to train your dog to ring a bell if they need to go out (look here and here for some examples).  We’re sort of winging it.  Kona already learned the “touch” command in her manners class last summer.  P started by getting Kona to “touch” his hand a few times, then progressed to telling her “touch” and pointing to the bell.  She got it on the first try. 

Next step was to hang the bell on our back door.  The chain it came on made this step uber-easy!

The next time Kona needed to go out, P pointed to the bell and said “touch”.  She touched / rang the bell with her nose, and P immediately praised her as he opened the door and told her to “go pee”. 

This morning was the first time I had a chance to try this out with Kona and it went really well. 

There was no hesitation at all when I told her to “touch the bell”.  She went straight for it. 

We’ll have to wait and see how long it takes her to figure out the routine.  We’re making a point of only using the bell when we are 100% certain she needs a bathroom break.  The last thing we want is the bell ringing anytime she wants to go out and play.  Fingers crossed all goes well!

(my apologies on the fuzzy photos – my own lazy fault for relying on my phone instead of our SLR)


Easiest Training Ever

Kona, like every other dog, is a creature of habit.  Since she came to live with us we have given her stuffed kongs when she is crated.  First it was loose kibble with a bit of peanut butter to get her used to the crate and to like being in there.  As she got older we began soaking the kibble and then freezing it in the kong (a kongsicle) so that it would last longer. 

I’m not sure when we started, but for as far back as I can remember we give Kona a kongsicle while P and I are eating dinner.  It keeps her occupied, quiet and ensures there is no begging at the table. 

Normally, we tell her to “go to bed” when we want her in her crate, including at dinner when she gets her kongsicle.  A few weeks ago I noticed that when I was ready to serve dinner she would look at me, then walk to the crate on her own without anyone telling her to.  I’m still not sure what signal she is picking up on – removing a dish from the oven?  P joining us in the kitchen?  Grabbing plates from the cabinet?  But whatever it is we no longer tell her to go to bed at dinnertime because she goes there on her own. 

Then we noticed that we didn’t need to lock her in the crate.  In fact, the crate door can be left wide open and she will stay in there until the kong is empty.  Only once did she pick up the filled kong to bring it outside the crate but she promptly returned there when told to go to bed. 

A few nights ago we decided to try something different.  Instead of bringing the kong to her, P called her over to join him by the fridge.  She wasn’t sure what to do at first – anytime we do something slightly different from her routine she acts as if we are testing her.  But since he was holding the kong and telling her to “come” she eventually left the crate and joined him.  P put the kong on the floor and told Kona to “take it”, then to “go to bed”.  She didn’t get it at first, she kept looking at the kong then at P wondering what she was supposed to do.  It took some repeating, but eventually she picked up the kong and went to her crate. 

The second night the experience was repeated and this time she tried to chew the kong in the kitchen at first, before relenting and going into her crate. 

The third night she took the kong and went straight to her crate, without being told. 

We’re pretty impressed.  This is by far the easiest thing we have ever trained her to do, but then, it is based on months of routine!

Learning to Run (again)

I have a love / hate relationship with running.  On a beautiful spring or fall day, or when I accomplish a distance goal by participating in a race – those days I love it.  On the rest of the days, not so much. 

It took many attempts for me to actually get into running.  I tried off and on at university, and again when I was a recent graduate living in Toronto.  But my attempts never lasted beyond a month or so. 

Then, the summer after I met P a few things happened that led to my first successful 5 K.  First, P is a very active individual and he was (and still is) very encouraging when it comes to me being active.  Second, my friend J (who is also a personal trainer) took me up on a statement I made that I wanted to run a 5K one day.  That July she committed to running in the Run for the Cure the following October.  There was plenty of time to work up to a 5K distance so I had no excuse.  I found the Couch Potato to 5K training program online and followed it.  The day of the 5K, J ran beside or behind me the entire race, shouting out encouragement along the way and P was at the finish line to congratulate me.  I was extremely proud of myself and celebrated by proceeding to not run for another couple of years. 

Fast forward to 2 years ago when I joined a Learn to Run clinic at our local Running Room.  I completed two 5K races and decided I really wanted to try a 10K.  Unfortunately, I got injured and could not compete in the first 10K I signed up for.  After recovering from the injury I returned to running and finally completed a 10K at the annual Zoo Run.  This time, J was again by my side.  We even dressed up in costumes (a popular practice at the Zoo Run) as the tortoise (moi) and the hare (J).  She even let me win! 

It’s been just over a year since I completed the 10K and since then I’ve run off and on.  I found it challenging to keep up with the running once Kona arrived at our house as running had to be done separately from her daily walks.  Unfortunately, running isn’t recommended for dogs in their first year.  The reason for this is that the puppy’s joints are still developing and exposing them to distance running at that age will greatly increase the likelihood that they will develop hip dysplasia

Now that we are nearing Kona’s first birthday we’ve decided it is time to slowly ease her into a running regimen.  I’m going back to basics and I’ll be applying the Couch Potato to 5K program with her by my side.  Only this time, I’ve found an app (Ease into 5K) to guide us on each run – it will even track our distance and pace.  Tonight will be Week 1, Day 1 of the program – fingers crossed it all goes well (I have a feeling she’ll do better with it than I will)!

Merry Christmas

Hope you are all enjoying a wonderful day filled with family, laughter and happy memories in the making.

Kona will be celebrating her first Christmas at our house in the morning, and then in Oakville with my family. She’s already in the holiday spirit and even gave out gifts to many of her doggie friends.

I helped her put together some packages of homemade dog biscuits.

And by “I helped” I mean that she sat a foot away from me and watched intently as I made the dough, rolled it out, cut the biscuits and baked them, then packaged the cooled biscuits in some cellophane bags with ribbon. She’s an excellent kitchen assistant.

I found this dog biscuit recipe online and used the medium and small sized cookie cutters from this set. The recipe was straightforward and the dough very easy to work with.

While the effort to cut them all out was time consuming, it was well worth the effort. Kona doesn’t have the most discerning taste (see this post about things she’s eaten), but she is definitely showing a preference for these cookies over other less exciting treats. And we’ve gotten some great feedback from Pippa and Emma as well. Plus, the cost to make them was a lot less than the bags of dog biscuits we’ve been buying. So I’ll definitely be making these again!

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!!!

Kona’s Bag of Tricks – 10 months

I can’t believe our girl is 10 months already. Her vocabulary list has not really changed since her 9 month post so I won’t be repeating it here.

Kona, 10 months

Her weight is remaining the same at 52 lbs. This month I measured her height (at the shoulders) and she’s 21 inches tall. This is the low end of the adult female lab size. No idea how much taller she will grow, although we do know that she will continue to fill out in girth over the next year. Speaking of girth, she is 26 inches diameter just behind her shoulders and her neck is 19 inches.

The only real change we’ve noticed this month is that she has gotten back into the habit of jumping up. We are not pleased about it and are working hard to discourage it. It’s especially annoying as she will jump up on you from behind.

We’re also working on her manners when it comes to the basement. She’s finally large enough that she can’t fit in the custom cat door that P made for Keegan.

Her curiosity for that space has not diminished. If she’s in the kitchen when one of us needs to go down there we make her sit and wait at the top of the stairs. It takes constant reminding to get her to stay put. Once we are safely at the bottom, she’s given the okay and she just barrels down the steps. She’s only down there for a minute or two but you have to watch her like a hawk to make sure she stays away from the litter box.

We’ve also discovered that if she sees us hugging she will want in on the action – she’ll come right over and sit next to us and if we don’t acknowledge her right away she will either jump up on me or start sniffing me. Another habit to work on!

All that being said our “struggles” with Kona are all very minor. She’s still a puppy and any challenges we face are typical puppy-related antics. P and I often remind each other what a good dog we have – we’re very lucky.

Con #1 – Picking Up Garbage

I like to think of myself as less squeamish than the average girl.  In university when there were mouse corpses to dispose of, I was one of the lucky housemates who had to take care of it.  Later, when I shared an apartment with another friend I was often the one who did the “dirtier” jobs. 

And then we got a puppy and I realized my limits. 

Cleaning up messes, while not pleasant, really doesn’t bother me all that much.  It’s part of the job.  But there is one aspect of puppyhood that I really disliked. 

Puppies, especially lab puppies, like to explore the world with their mouths.  They will also eat anything and everything.  When we first started taking Kona on walks in our neighbourhood I became aware of how much littering our neighbours did.  I lost count of the number of times I had to take a cigarette butt out of her mouth (thankfully, she stopped doing that fairly quickly). 

We were lucky in that she was never one to eat another dog’s leavings.  But there are two particular events where I was completely grossed out.  The first was having to remove slugs from her mouth.  I just can’t bring myself to touch them on a normal basis and in this case I didn’t realize what they were until after I removed them. 

The second was early on in her puppyhood, and thankfully something she has not repeated since.  Puppy reflexes are fast, and in the time it took me to realize she was sniffing some goose droppings she had already engulfed one.  I’ll be honest – I did not have the stomach to try to pry that little goodie out of her jaws. 

Thankfully she grew out of those phases fairly quickly.  We still need to be vigilant to make sure she doesn’t ingest anything bad for her.  Kona loves the crabapples that squirrels like to bring into our back yard, but unfortunately they make her ill if she eats too much. 

These days on our walks she is mostly attracted to pop/beer cans and plastic water bottles.  Those I can deal with if needed, but most of the time she will respond to either a “leave it” or a “drop it”. 

Thank goodness for progress! 

Of course, just after I wrote the draft of this post she managed to outdo herself.  I wasn’t quite focused on a recent walk.  When I saw a light brown fluffy thing on the sidewalk ahead of us, it reminded me of a plush toy we had for Kona when she was younger and I didn’t react to it. 

Not what she picked up.

Of course, she was intently sniffing and made a beeline for it which is when I realized it wasn’t a toy – it was the dead squirrel that our neighbor H had warned me about just 2 minutes earlier.  I told Kona to “drop it” and she looked up at me with the squirrel firmly in her mouth (and looking very proud of herself).  I reached down to open her jaws and she released it without any protest, and off we went.  Fingers crossed someone else deals with that squirrel so I don’t have to see it again!

Expect the Unexpected

If I was to write a book about bringing home a new puppy that would probably be the best title for it.  Or, “Take All Advice With A Grain Of Salt”.  But I’m getting ahead of myself – let me give you a little background before I get into our latest kerfuffle…

It seems that as soon as you have a puppy, or are thinking of getting a puppy, there is no shortage of advice being offered to you.  We were fortunate to receive some wonderful advice that helped us ease into Kona’s early days at home. 

We also quickly discovered that multiple sources means multiple opinions.  It can be difficult to know whose advice is best.  Early on when we were thinking of getting a dog we read the following concept, which we have tried to apply as best we can: 

“Take health advice from a vet, behaviour advice from trainer, and breed advice from a breeder.”

Given that mantra, we took the time to find a breeder, vet and trainer that we felt we could trust and rely on.  It has meant that when we were at our wits end on an issue (house training, digestive problems) we knew who to call and could trust in their advice.   And so far, that tactic has served us well.  Until now. 

One of the biggest decisions we needed to make about Kona’s health was when to get her spayed.  Vets encourage you to do it when the puppy is 6 months of age.  There are two reasons for this.  It helps control the animal population by making sure dogs are spayed / neutered before they are mature enough that an accidental litter could occur.  Second, for females there is a slightly higher risk of mammary (?) cancer if they go into heat before they are spayed. 

On the other hand, our breeder and a neighbour who also breeds labs both encouraged us to wait until Kona was at least 10 months of age.  Their argument is that this way the puppy develops enough hormones to develop female or male specific traits.  Otherwise you allegedly end up with an “it”, a dog that is neither male nor female and does not develop to be a true physical specimen of the purebred dog that you selected (smaller, lankier, etc).  Our breeder felt so strongly about this that she sent a letter to all the families that adopted her puppies when the litter reached 6 months of age. 

P and I debated this for a long time.  In the end, we decided that the only real risk to waiting was that we might have to deal with a dog in heat and she’d be at a very slightly higher risk of one type of cancer.  As our breeder also claimed that Kona’s mother, grandmother, and several generations back were all over a year old when they went into heat the first time, we thought it was a risk worth taking.  So we waited and scheduled Kona’s procedure for December 28th, 5 days after she reaches 10 months. 

Guess what? 

Somebody’s in heat.

P made the discovery when he came home from work Monday night.  We went straight to the internet – always the best source of information (note the heavy sarcasm) to find out what we were in for.  Some of the comments / cautions are fairly entertaining (I especially like the one here that describes a dog in heat trying to chew her way through a door to reach a male dog).  We’ve also heard tales of dogs barking outside of a house where a dog in heat was inside (and the bitch returning the barking), and of males jumping 6 ft high fences to get to the female in heat. 

The biggest issue is that we have to confine Kona to our property for 3 weeks – no dog park visits, daily walks, and an end to letting her unsupervised in our yard (apparently male dogs might try to break in or she might try and break out).  I’m really worried about the lack of walks –she’s going to go stir crazy in our house.  Since I rarely see other dogs on our 6am weekday morning jaunts, we may try and maintain them at least. 

I also called our vet and confirmed that we have to cancel the surgery – there’s a much higher risk of blood loss if they are in heat when they get spayed.  We have to wait until she’s no longer in heat (2-3 weeks from now) and then rebook the appointment. 

We’re very frustrated – this is not something we wanted to deal with and discovering it right before Christmas (and just 9 days before she was to get spayed) made it that much more annoying.  All in all though, it’s mostly an inconvenience.  The situation is completely manageable and hopefully in 6-8 weeks it’ll be like nothing ever happened.  On the plus side, she’s become a lot more affectionate.  Last night she curled up on top of my feet – something I’ve been hoping she would do ever since we brought her home!