Saturday, March 28, 2015

Pip the Birding Dog

Pip the birding dog playing peekaboo
I have a lot to catch up on as far as telling about my first wonderful days with Pip. But here are a few photos from today, when we took a little time for backyard birding. She is VERY aware of bird sounds and sometimes watches finches at the feeder or flying overhead. A pair of Merlins is nesting nearby, and she pays attention to their noisy calls and tracks them when they fly over (if they're close). And she definitely heard the #42 bird on her life list, a Pileated Woodpecker. I told her that from now on, that bird will hold the answer to life, the universe, and everything for her. That made her wag her tail.

Pip the birding dog

Pip the birding dog

Pip the birding dog


Friday, March 20, 2015

My first day with PIP!!!

When I drove to Chicago on March 20, I brought both my cameras along, with my basic lens on my better camera body so I could take lots of Pip pix. But I was so excited that I forgot to even take the camera out of the case! Fortunately, my sister-in-law Jeanie met me at Julie's (which went far above and beyond the call of duty--she took the train and a lengthy hike to get there!) and took photos, and then drove my car back to her place so I could hold Pip on her first car ride away from Julie.

Here is how our day went (with all photos by Jeanie Erickson-Ciagala):

Pip's first day with me!
Holding Pip at Julie's
Pip's first day with me!
Pip trying on her harness, a gift from my friend Delia Unson
Pip's first day with me!
Pip saying goodbye to her mommy, Jane
Pip's first day with me!
A bittersweet moment for Julie, passing her off to me
Pip's first day with me!
And now she's officially MY little puppy!!
Pip's first day with me!
Getting ready for her first ride in my car.
Pip's first day with me!
Making a stop a few blocks away to say hi to my Aunt Rosemary!
Pip's first day with me!
I think she likes me!
Pip's first day with me!
Checking out the potty possibilities at Auntie Jeanie's
Pip's first day with me!
Pip in her little playpen/kennel
It was a very eventful day! Pip and I went to sleep about 11. She was in her little kennel near my bed. She went right to sleep when I turned the light out--no crying at all. I woke up at 3 and was cold, so got another blanket, and while I was up, reached in to touch Pip, but she was shivering a bit, so I brought her into the bed with me. And she snuggled right in and went right back to sleep, and we didn't wake up till 7:30. I don't know how to deal with the burglar alarm, so had a puppy pad set out which Pip dutifully used. And this is how we spent our first day together.

(I wrote this entry on April 2, but backdated it to the date and time when I picked her up at Julie's.)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

♬ Tomorrow! Tomorrow! ♬

♬ Tomorrow! Tomorrow!
I get Pip tomorrow!
She's only a dream away. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What makes a good birding dog?

Piping Plover

I have lots of friends who occasionally bird with their dogs, but few who take their dogs just about everywhere. There are some excellent birding spots where dogs are forbidden, particularly on beaches where Piping or Snowy Plovers nest. If we lived in a culture where dogs were expected to be well-trained and under control, on- or off-leash, and where people understood and appreciated local wildlife and the problems they face, dogs would probably be allowed even on those beaches, at least on-leash.

Sign at Popham Beach State Park

When I was in Vancouver this fall, I spent three mornings walking along beaches. One of them was marked as an off-leash dog park, but even where signs clearly stated that dogs were not allowed at all, people were running them on the beach, and even allowing them to chase flocks of shorebirds on the sand and water birds in the shallow water. Several times right when I was photographing a bird, suddenly a dog charged in and chased it off. This is a minor inconvenience for me. But for the birds, it was not just cosmically rude—it was potentially dangerous. In our increasingly developed world, especially along shorelines, there are so few remaining places where birds can come down after a long flight, and where they can find adequate and safe food supplies. Unfortunately, when most people see a bird, they don't see a living breathing entity, much less a sentient one. For them, birds are fun playthings for their dogs (or sometimes their cats!), with no value or rights.

So, obviously, the first rule for a good birding dog is:
#1. No chasing birds!
How do you train a dog not to do what seems "natural"? It's best to start with a breed that wasn't specifically bred for chasing prey or chasing other dogs. If you start with a terrier or sled dog breed, you've already got the deck stacked against success. Oddly enough, bird-hunting pointers and retrievers often make splendid birding dogs. They were bred to stop and wait when they do find a bird on their own, and when they pick it up, to bring it straight to their human and give it up. So they are already bred to be compliant and master their deepest instincts. My golden retriever Bunter made a splendid birding dog for that reason. My bichon frise Photon was also a splendid birding dog. Her breed was specifically bred for circus performance. Other related breeds that excel in agility events, in which they pay special attention to their owner's commands, are also easy to train with regard to chasing.

The second rule is to:
#2. Enjoy long walks.
This comes natural to most dogs, but a few individuals, especially in smaller breeds, don't enjoy walking much. That wouldn't work in a birding dog. I do a lot of birding on foot, and particularly enjoy birding hikes of 8-12 miles. It's important to provide fun experiences outdoors from the start. Walking and enjoying the outdoors--including in rain and snow sometimes--is essential. But NO puppies should be expected to walk very far as their bones are developing, even if their bodies want to keep going. Slowly building up distance in the first year is the goal.

Even my exceedingly well-trained golden retriever and my perfect little bird dog Photon occasionally had a strong temptation to chase a deer or mosey off sniffing along some fascinating trail. So I always kept them on leash while birding. I need two hands to deal with my camera and binoculars, so on birding adventures, I use a retractable leash with the handle hooked by a carabiner to my belt.

There are times, like along dangerous highways, when staying on heel is essential. Otherwise, I just want my dog nearby where we're both able to enjoy ourselves. Walking along country roads and trails, I always let the dog go a bit ahead or behind, sniffing at a whole world of things I don't have a clue about, but if I hear a bird up ahead and want to hurry, I need the dog to keep up with me. And if I'm watching a bird right there, I don't want to be jerked from where I'm standing. I start teaching good manners on a leash while the puppy is little, using a regular leash at first. The important thing for the puppy to learn isn't to keep a proper heel, but simply:
#3. Don't pull on the leash.
A good birding dog comes to a lot of places besides lovely parks. We encounter people and dogs. It's important for the puppy to learn another essential rule:
#4. Never ever lunge at or jump on people or other dogs.
Happy little dogs often become barkers. Many people can't help but baby a small, adorable puppy, thinking those little barks are so cute! That is, until they become incessant yaps, but by that time it's too late. So from the start, I always praise my puppy for alerting me to something with one bark. "Good bark!" But then if I hear a second or third bark, it's, "Uh uh. You already told me about that." Usually at that point, I quickly pick up the puppy and distract it with something else. If the barking continues, I just gently pinch a wad of fur on the scruff of the neck, where a mother dog would nip a naughty puppy. The puppies I've had, of compliant, easily-trained breeds, took even the gentlest pinch as a warning, so I never had to do anything more severe to train a dog to follow this rule:
#5. Don't bark.
#6. (Suggested by Ron Holland) Be well behaved in motel rooms, even if left alone while the human birder goes places where dogs are not allowed or where it might be dangerous for a dog. 
Birders, of course, have their own rules to follow when bringing along a dog.
#1. Clean up after your dog. Every time.
#2. Follow ALL posted rules for dog owners. 
#3. Be patient. It's not fun for a puppy or dog to stand still while you tease out the warblers and vireos in a flock. On days when the puppy has to wait patiently for you, give the puppy some extra time to check out what she finds interesting.
#4. Don't forget water and treats.  
#5. Pay attention to weather conditions with the puppy in mind. Don't overdo it when it's hot, be careful of the dog's feet on sidewalks where salt was spread, and provide outerwear when necessary to keep the dog warm enough. 
#6. Pay attention to nearby animals to make sure they won't hurt your dog. 
Please post a comment if you have suggestions for other rules for birders or their birding dogs.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

♬ I've been waiting so long ♬

Before Pip's mother even went into heat, I'd decided I wanted one of her puppies. I first wrote to her breeder Julie on June 24th last year, Jane finally went into heat and was bred in November, and Julie has kept me up to date all along. Now, 3 days, 4 hours, and 30 minutes from now, I'll be in the sunshine of the warmest kind of puppy love.

I've been waiting so long
To be where I'm going
In the sunshine of your love.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Ten weeks: The last group poster

Photos by Ágnes Szilágyi‎

They're breakin' up that ol' gang of mine

This past week the puppies got their first set of vaccinations and their vision test, and were microchipped, and this weekend Pip's big brothers moved on to their new homes. Their new families are going to keep their names the same, so the Great Expectations boys will keep the names of the novel's sweetest characters, Herbert Pocket and Joe Gargery. And Pip will of course stay Pip. The last photos I have of the three together were from when they were eight weeks old.

Herbie, Joey, and Pip at 8 weeks
Herbie, Joey, and Pip! Photo by Ágnes Szilágyi.

Ágnes Szilágyi, the owner of Pip's sire Buksi, brought the puppy daddy over to meet Pip yesterday.

Buksi and Pip. Photo by Ágnes Szilágyi.
As I write this, Pip will be coming home with me in 5 days, 1 hour, and 40 minutes.

Daddy's Little Girl

Buksi and Pip. Photo by Ágnes Szilágyi
Now that she's had her first vaccinations, Pip got to widen her circle a little bit. She met her Daddy yesterday!

Mother and Daughter

Pip and Jane. Photo by Ágnes Szilágyi

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Coming down to the wire

Herbie, Joey, and Pip at 8 weeks Julie wrote yesterday (Wednesday) that she:
took the pups and Pip for microchipping and  eye testing yesterday. The eyes, like the hearing, need to be done by a specialist. The puppies were so brave. Not one peep (or pip) out of them. It was a rather long ordeal but everyone was great and we had our other furry kids with us. They were very hungry and needed to potty when they got home but were ready to play. Off to the vet tomorrow morning for a check up.
Herbie and Joey will be going to their new homes this weekend, so when I get in next week, they'll already be gone. If I'm sad that I won't see Pip's big brothers again, I can't imagine how sad letting the puppies go must be for Julie, even as it's exciting and, really, one of the whole points in dog breeding. She's very careful to make sure each puppy goes to a good home, but letting go must be hard.

I have so much respect and admiration for people who take in rescue dogs. Most of those dogs came originally from careless or unethical breeders who don't look carefully at all the issues in choosing which dogs to breed to ensure that puppies will have a high probability of a long, healthy life and a sound temperament ideal for that breed. Puppy mill breeders breed several or even many dogs at a time. But a lot of well-meaning but uninformed people simply pick another pedigreed dog to mate with their own beloved pedigreed dog, without realizing their own dog and/or the mate might have genetic problems that will shorten its life--conditions that should NOT be fostered by breeding more of the same.

Dog breeding should be done to foster the wonderful traits--physical and behavioral--specific to each breed. It's not supposed to be a fun hobby so kids can watch puppies be born, nor a for-profit business enterprise. Well-bred dogs are expensive, but the truth is, you cannot tell a good breeder by how much you spend for a puppy. I've checked on the Internet, and  I'm not paying more for Pip than most Havanese puppy-mill breeders charge. Do they provide the enrichment and socialization activities for their puppies that Julie does, and even start housebreaking? Do they carefully screen every potential buyer to make sure the puppies go to good and loving homes? Do they provide prospective owners with all the medical information so there's good continuity with immunizations and puppy care? Do they make sure each puppy has its first shots, is chipped, and has been tested for vision, hearing, and bone structure? And do they offer nurturing warmth to their prospective buyers, sending puppy photos every week and making the anticipation an exciting part of the fun of getting a puppy?

Julie and Agnes (the owner of Pip's sire) are exceptional both as dog breeders and human beings, but the standards they meet are also fostered by the Havana Silk Dog Association of America. The American Kennel Club may do some good things, but their pedigrees do not distinguish between dogs that should never be bred and dogs that meet the highest standards of health and temperament. (Unlike Havanese, the parent breed, the Havana Silk Dog is not an AKC breed because of this.) No breeder can guarantee that a puppy will have a long, healthy life. But by doing everything possible to raise the probabilities, good breeders make the world a happier place for people and their pets. Good breeders help those of us who just want a nice puppy to have the best likelihood that our beloved dog will be with us for a long time without endless vet bills and heart break. It's impossible to express how happy I am that I discovered the HSDAA, and Julie.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Haiku of the Day

Pip! Pippety Pip!
Pippety Pippety Pip!
Pippety Pip? Pip!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Great Expectations kids at 9 weeks

Photos by Ágnes Szilágyi

Nine weeks old!

Pip at 9 weeks
Photo by  Ágnes Szilágyi

Pip passes her BAER test

Most Havanese dogs are very healthy and have a long life expectancy, but a few of them have life-shortening conditions. For this and some other breeds, a  whole panoply of disorders seem to be bundled together into a single dangerous syndrome, most often found in dogs that are deaf and/or have structural deviations that are noticeable when the dog is soaped—that is, wetted down with soap and water so the structure of the bones, especially of the front legs, is visible.

Havana Silk Dog breeders are specifically working to exclude from the breeding pool all dogs that show these disorders or produce puppies with them. A deaf dog or one with slightly crooked legs can still make a beloved pet, but dogs that produce puppies with these conditions should not be bred at all, so all HSDAA breeders are required to have their puppies' hearing tested via the BAER test and have photos taken of the soaped puppies. Pip, Herbie, and Joey had their hearing tested on Friday and passed with flying colors—Julie sent me Pip's BAER result. (Ironically, last week I got the results of my own hearing test—I flunked.) Later today, the puppies will get their soaped photos taken.

Preparing our household for Pip!

Laura and Pip! 

 Two weeks from today, Pip will arrive at our house. She'll be instantly beloved by the people here: me, my husband, our 29-year-old son who is back at home taking some classes at the local university while working on an internship as a computer programmer, and my 96-year-old mother-in-law. We'll have to be careful about Pip being underfoot when my mother-in-law is walking about. She is pretty steady, but needs a cane to walk from room to room, and it'll be important to keep Pip from getting underfoot. So I've ordered a nice little soft-sided crate to keep in our TV room when Pip's in there with me. (Our evening ritual since my MIL moved in with us involves me watching whatever TV programs she wants to see every evening.) I'll only zip Pip in the crate when I'm helping my MIL do her physical therapy exercises each day and when we're preparing, eating, and cleaning up after dinner--the rest of the time I'll leave it open for Pip to go in and out as she pleases, calling her to me when my MIL gets up to do anything. 

I usually spend most of the day up in my home office. I'm a writer, and when I'm working, Pip will spend that time with me. My office is a mess right now (I'm working on two books, and any time I'm in the middle of a project, entropy takes over), but I'm working at getting it tidied up and puppy-proofed. I'll have one of her dog beds in there, and also a little soft dog house she can go in and out of. Until I'm sure everything is puppy-proofed, I'll have her X-pen in there for when I have to leave the room if I can't bring her along. 

My licensed education bird, an Eastern Screech-Owl named Archimedes, lives up in my home office in a huge flight cage, and I'm sure Pip will be fascinated by him. There's no risk of the two getting too close—the cage is sturdy. Archimedes is 16 now—I got him in 2000, when he was 1 year old, and until my little dog Photon died last year, he spent most of his days with a little dog in the room and didn't mind at all. Our cats are banished from that room (Archimedes is petrified of Kasey, whose goal in life has been to kill him). 

At bedtime, I'll bring the small crate to our room, next to our bed for sleeping. That'll keep her confined if she does have to ::ahem:: use the facilities and I don't wake up. I'll be working with her on housebreaking from the start, but until she's reliable, I will keep pee pads in the crate with her. Our bedroom doesn't have a lot of stuff for her to get into, so when she's mastered housebreaking and after I've made sure there are no hidden dangers in there, that's the room I'll leave her in when I'm away on errands, unless my son is home and wants her in his room. For the next 4 months or so, I'll be going to cardiac rehab three times a week, and right now I have more doctor appointments than normal. I used to bring Photon along on little jaunts like that except when it was too cold or warm to leave her in the car. I'll do that with Pip when she feels safe and happy waiting for me in the car, too. Meanwhile, our room will serve as her quiet place/kennel.


 Our Miss Kitty is 18 years old now. She doesn't approve of dogs, but doesn't mind them after she gets to know them, though she hides out and only slowly and cautiously approaches at first. It may take a day or two before she starts spending time in the TV room with us at night again, but that'll be fine.

Kasey, our 9-year-old cat, started out as a feral cat from one of those horrible TNR programs in Ohio. She was killing birds in my daughter Katie's yard until I enticed her into my car and drove 800 miles home with her. My car is the first place she ate expensive canned cat food, and she instantly felt at home in it, so she went back and forth with me when I was working at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, along with Photon. The two of them loved each other from the start, and I'm certain Kasey will end up loving Pip, too, though it may take some time. Kasey has already fallen in love with the little dog house I bought for Pip. I'm probably going to keep that in my office at first, which may make Kasey feel deprived, but as Pip gets housebroken and learns the family routines and doesn't need to be crated downstairs anymore, I may bring it to the TV room for the two of them to share.

The very first week I have Pip, I'll be doing an evening program down in the Twin Cities, and I'll be spending that night with my friend Jane. That'll be Pip's and my first jaunt out of town together alone. There's one convenient rest stop along the way, and another place to stop for a little break and snack, too, so we won't have to drive the whole way without a break. If it's cold outside, I'll leave Pip at Jane's during my talk. If it's more pleasant, the two will come along so Jane can see my program, and we'll leave Pip in the car, in a car kennel, with Jane or me checking on her every 20 minutes or so. I'm hoping she enjoys car rides and learns as quickly as Photon did that I always come back and the car is a safe refuge, so these trips will be entirely fun.

I know I'm very optimistic, but that optimism is steeped in experience. I learned with our two previous family dogs, our golden retriever Bunter (1983-1997) and my bichon frise Photon (1998-2014), that when you expect a dog to behave, and patiently train her to do what you expect, she really does learn to accommodate your needs even as you learn to accommodate her unique personality and needs. It's always complicated introducing a new family member, and puppies are so inquisitive and intent on grabbing for all the gusto they can get out of life that it takes time and patience to channel their energies into acceptable outlets, especially when a fragile 96-year-old is part of the household. But the best thing about puppies is that even as I went through the worst parts of that long learning stage, they were so adorable that I never lost my patience or my optimism that it was all going to work out. And so, of course, it did.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

♬ Some day my Pip will come...

Some day when spring is here
I'll meet my pup anew,
And the birds will sing
And waggy tails will ring,
Some day when my dreams come true,

Some day when my Pip will come. ♬

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Eight weeks old!

Today it's MARCH—the month Pip comes to live with me. I've made her first veterinarian appointment for the Friday, March 27, giving her several days to get used to me and her new home. I am so filled with eager anticipation!
Pip at 8 weeks Herbie, Joey, and Pip at 8 weeks