Wow, Fergus is 6 months old. It feels quite surreal. Having a puppy is a whole new experience for me and so I thought I’d update you on the good, the horrifying, and the hilarious tales of owning a live wire.
Now before you start wondering, I knew the breed (ish) having had a Golden Retriever as part of the family. Ollie was something else, he was a rescue but at 10 was a gentleman and watching him learn to love and trust made every second worthwhile. He was as laidback as they come. Goldies have got something really special about them. They are fiercely intelligent, full of character, full of mischief and love, and a boundless joy of life. When you have a goldie in your family, walks mean that you spend a massive amount of time watching them get snuggled and cuddled and generally fawned over. Yup, goldies look good… and they know it!
Each breed has characteristics but goldies are people lovers. They love nothing better than to spend every waking minute of the day at your side and preferably on your lap. They are also talkative. As in they want to bark at you, with you, or at random just because. Not the greatest tool for neighbour relations… until they see them and succumb to the charm that is a goldie grin. All this personality in one pup can see them sent to rescue centres especially when, like all puppies, they like chewing things. It’s that mantra a new puppy owner says to themselves over and over… ‘They are just puppies, not their fault, nope, just a baby.’ This is easier said than done if an owner comes home to see their sofa/walls/entire house chewed. Say it in one big breath. ‘Just a baby…’
Fergus is something else. Even my mother, who has had her fair share of canine chums, has had her eyes opened with our feisty fella. He has run rings around us (literally) out thought us, (way too frequently,) driven us to the point of rocking in a corner, (thank goodness for chocolate,) and made us howl with laughter, (he then joined in.) He’s eaten some wonderful and wacky things such as eggshells, mops, and his personal favourite, tissues. He ate part of a sock, the plastic of a toy duck, mud, some other gross things which will remain unnamed and half a Rice Crispie cake. That was with two folks home and watching him as hawk-like as possible. Goodness knows what he could accomplish with means, motive and opportunity.
Ferb, as I often call him, is also one of the sweetest and most caring dogs. We’re starting to see him beginning to really realise who we are. We’ve moved from being the bald puppies who feed him and make him do stuff he doesn’t want to, (like sleep!) to folks who he likes. Little things where he’s come for a cuddle because he can see I’m stressed about something or not feeling great. His delight at seeing me, Em or Mum when we come in and his look of pure love as he watches one of us when no one is looking. I’m pretty sure that someone somewhere is tutting at my humanising of his emotions and that dogs don’t have emotions or only look at you to get what they want. They are welcome to that opinion but watching someone when they aren’t looking doesn’t really get a pup a lot. Plus, I can feel it from him. He’s starting to trust us, to really care about us and bond.
He’s still teething and so that, if you’re a dog owner, may bring back some memories. We looked through lots of forums and found that the best way to keep him from destroying random things was antlers. He loves them and as you can see, he treats them like Cuban cigars. (He’d make a great criminal.) Things like ice definitely helped too. He is pretty good at ice hockey now and if he was a human, I would say that would have been an ideal career. There’s nothing quite like a bit of roughhousing. His best friend, Jess, is a Cockapoo and is a curly bundle of fluff the size of a miniature poodle. Poor thing often comes back a lot darker in shade from being stomped all over by Ferbie. He’s now 23kgs (50lbs for US folks,) and he’s got a lot more growing to do.
As a future assistance dog, we’ve been working as hard as two numpties can on giving him all the skills and experiences he will need to pass the tests. To do that we teamed up with Top Dogs who has been nothing short of a blessing. His nature, intelligence and drive are fantastic traits but it also means that he isn’t just going to lie on the sofa and look cute. Uh, uh, this guy loves exercise, solves complex doggie puzzles in seconds, trains us as much as we train him and doesn’t take fools gladly. Yet, he’s doing things that make me marvel at him. He’s already learned to pull my socks off for me. He’s got a lot of the commands we’re slowly teaching him (and ourselves.) He loves to learn. He’s started going on short training walks now, no sniffs, no cuddles, focusing on doing the job he’ll eventually be doing. Being bouncy means he’s needed to learn that kids don’t enjoy being pounced on and dogs sometimes take offence at being pounded into the dirt. Socialisation walks have helped him to know what good doggy manners are. I highly recommended both puppy playgroups that veterinary practices run and the ABPDT Puppy Good Companion Award. (Fergus passed this last month, hurray!) There’s a lot of different opinions but I think they are incredible because pet dogs don’t always know how to read other dogs. Especially if they are happy guys like pup, these classes and groups help them to learn when it’s okay to approach a dog and when it’s probably best to leave them alone. More importantly, it gives us the ability to see the difference in behaviours for ourselves. What is play growling, fighting and rolling compared to real combat. Not that I’m an expert at any stretch of the imagination but I have a better idea than I did to begin with. So here’s what weird and wonderful things I’ve learned since Fergus Oliver MacLauchlin has padded into my life.
1. Whatever anyone tells you, puppies are blooming exhausting and unlike kids, they can’t speak your language.
Nope, not even a little. No matter how much of a Mensa qualified guy he is, Fergus really didn’t know what I was saying. (Okay, so that’s no unique to him, but still…) Shouting, screaming, waving your hands in the air still doesn’t make him get it. He can’t speak the lingo. Expecting him to get a complex string of commands like, ‘get off my foot…. stop trying to eat the sofa/the wall/the table/me,’ don’t mean a thing. And trust me, I tried it in varying languages to make sure, including attempting a Scottish accent (because Goldies are Scots) but nada, nothing, not even a flicker. Training him helped him to know that when I made this sound, and he did this, then I leapt about like a lunatic and fed him. The bald puppies were weird but if all he had to do was plonk his butt down to get fed, well… why not?
2. Puppies bite
Those little fangs hurt. I read up on a lot of the theories that they see your hands as what interacts with them. So they interact with your hands using their mouths. Apparently your feet are the best chew toys made for dogs and they don’t get that you don’t like it. When you squeal, it’s funny. You must want to play. Some people recommended yelping like another dog, squirting water, rattling cans of coins… the best way was taught to us by Top Dogs and so came the realisation that if we trained him, ‘off,’ along with some other great advice, that might help him to know what we wanted. Again, he can’t speak the lingo.
It’s a natural doggy thing. They like barking. There’s nothing wrong with it but sometimes it’s not really welcome, (especially at 3am,) but he doesn’t know that unless we communicate that to him. Shouting, ‘shut up,’ oddly doesn’t work. Funny that. Only when he’s barking, it’s human instinct to tell him you don’t want to, in a language he can’t understand, and expect him to get it. Top Dogs showed us how to communicate when we don’t want him to in a way he could actually understand and miraculously enough, he listened… He doesn’t always listen but we’re not always consistent, no matter how hard we try.
4. Getting a breed means that there are some characteristics that are inherent but a dog is an individual.
Different dogs have different personalities like us human folk. Some are confident, some get scared. In puppy playgroup, we watched dogs who wouldn’t come out from under their owners legs to dogs like Fergus who leapt at everyone. Smaller dogs don’t always enjoy being treated like a chew toy, (go figure,) and big dogs can be big girls blouses. Some are foodies, some are cuddlers, some want to tear chew toys apart. Some, like Fergus, wish to serenade the other dogs. (ear plugs… lots of ear plugs.) It’s also quite eye-opening to learn that sometimes dogs who you think are confident actually aren’t. There was a great picture of a baby trying to cuddle a puppy showing how terrified the poor dog was. Body language shows an awful lot but like they can’t speak your language, it helps if you learn how to speak theirs.
I watched a great video on it. Little Ferbie sees the word through his sniffs. His nose has three chambers (or something scientific like that) that break up the sniffs into different things. He breathes in through the front bit of his nostrils, then that air gets split up. One bit tells him what has been there, who they were, how they were feeling and whether they were healthy. He can also smell someone coming long before we see them and know things like if a car has recently been parked there. The second thing helps him read chemicals and hormones so he can sense your mood and if you have infections, diseases, if you need to eat or drink, if your blood sugar level is up or down and I would guess that includes if you have PMS. Then that air gets sent back out through the side-slits of his cute doggy nose. Something really cool to remember next time you take your dog out. (if you have one.)
Whether Fergus was going to be an assistance dog or not, we wanted to train with him. We wanted to have a highly-trained, well-adjusted fella who was happy and healthy. He’s part of the family and loved but one of my favourite things about it is that we’re learning all about him in the process. The funniest thing is realising how dozy you can be. Part of training is consistency but sometimes he trains me and I don’t even realise it. (Sneaky.) Dogs have an uncanny way of making you think that something was your idea. They can quickly figure out how to work you to their own advantage. For instance, pup was training me that when he sat back up then lay back down I would give him a treat when I was asking him to settle. Only when it was pointed out, I realised that he’d been having a great feast… doh.
Because they are up, walking and causing mischief, it can sometimes make you forget that they are only babies. Babies who are depending on you to show them what’s what. You’re their reference and they look to you to know when something’s dangerous and when it’s not. Ferbie, for instance, is convinced that the brush may wish to eat him when his back is turned. He knows this and therefore likes to bounce around making darting jabs at it while barking. So far, the brush has been unfazed. Ferbie also likes to attack my crutch at random, you know in case it ambushes him. He also loves to walk in front of the chair like he’s playing chicken, (scary considering my driving ability in it.)
He isn’t keen on tree branches waving in the breeze and crackling plastic.
Next up for us is adolescence… *scared face*… and he starts his ABPDT Foundation Good Companion Award very soon and we hope that will build on our skills and his but for now, I’ll leave you with pictures of baby – 6 months.