Friday, June 21, 2013

Part Bear Cub, Part Fish - All Labrador Retriever

I have had Piper a good month now, and as a repeat puppy-raiser you can't help but compare your current puppy to past ones. Several things stand out about Piper:

Piper is Part Bear-Cub. Sometimes when Piper gets excited, I look down and see not a sweet, cuddly puppy, but something more akin to a furry black baby carnivore pulled out of his den by the scruff of the neck. Lips pulled back, needle-sharp teeth bared, emitting play growls, whites of his eyes showing, hunched into a little ball of bear-cub fearsomeness. Wow, am I ready for this? Rather than put on leather gloves and play "Who Is the Biggest, Baddest Dude - Me or You?" I try to wait him out until he calms down. If that doesn't work, I simply and unceremoniously pop him in his crate. A short time-out does wonders for his bear-cub spells - they disappear. As the weeks progress, the bear cub episodes are starting to fade away.

In contrast, his incessant mouthing has been daunting to correct. Although he has mostly stopped mouthing me, he does gnaw on everyone else. Meeting people invariably ends with their fingers in his mouth and comments (nice or otherwise) such as, "My, his teeth are sharp!" Children are more to the point. "He bit me!" I ask them to pet his back half instead, but that is not as interesting, and they soon gravitate back to his head...and the mouthing starts again and I have to be referee. Now I am trying a new tack, where I offer people a toy to offer Piper - Piper can gnaw on that instead of their tender fingers.

Piper is Part Fish. I have had pups that loved the water and pups that didn't even like to get their paws wet. But I've never had a puppy at 8 or 9 weeks who would dive head-first into the horse trough, completely submerging, blowing bubbles and spluttering to the surface, only to scramble out, shake off and want to dive back in again! Since he's started doing this I make sure to keep the trough only partway full. CPR is not something I want to do on my puppy if I can help it. With all water containers, his muzzle is constantly underwater, blowing bubbles. It is as natural to him as breathing.

Piper is All Labrador Retriever (emphasis on retriever). Piper is hard-wired to retrieve. I did not have to teach him. An object is thrown and Piper naturally retrieves it for me. Even as a chunky puppy he did it with such eagerness and pure joy, it was as if he had discovered The Zone. I encourage this but keep the games short and on my schedule. I have added the words "Get It", "Piper, Here", and "Give" to start teaching him cues that go with retrieve. Retrieving will serve him well as a service dog, as one of their biggest jobs can be fetching objects for their person.

All that said, with the challenges, interruptions, frustrations and surprises, Piper is a wonderful, affectionate puppy with a keen mind that learns as naturally as he retrieves and blows bubbles underwater. I am looking forward to our journey together down the Puppy-Raiser Road, with all its bumps, twists and turns, valleys and hilltops. One thing is for certain though, I don't expect many flat, boring sections along the way!

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