Monthly Archives: June 2012

Big Black Dog and the Cherry Tree

I woke this morning with great expectations of a few relaxing hours with the dogs. I had a doctor appointment for myself at 10:45 so I was using a half of a sick day. Usually I hold out for a very early or very late appointment but this was an appointment where you had to just take what you could get. As a result I was going to have a few extra hours to let the dogs stay out of their kennels and play. They have had a few long days of more than normal crate time as my husband has been out-of-town and as the only dog parent home they were living on my schedule. The dog walker at noon helped, but I was happy they would get some more playtime.

As always I went outside with the dogs. Jackson is fifteen months old and still explores the world by putting everything into his mouth instead of just smelling it with his nose. Because of this I tend to stay close to him to make sure he is not consuming something that could hurt us.

Over the last few days Jackson has been obsessed with our fairly new Bing cherry tree. A month or so ago we planted apple, pear and a cherry tree in our back yard. He was doing a great job of staying off of the trees, not killing them with his urine, and not chewing them. I know my way around my lab enough to know what is going on in his mind when he sees those trees: best.stick.ever.

This morning Jackson was intent on removing all of the leaves off of several branches and eating them. Not just chewing and spitting out, but actually eating and swallowing. He did this in record time. I body blocked, used the off command that he knows very well. I circled the tree, trying to keep my own body between the pup and the tree. I failed miserably. The more I blocked him, the more of a game it became. I raised my voice. NO! I even broke out the dreaded b-a-d-d-o-g. He darted in and out around me to get to the tree to eat more leaves with speed that should not have been possible with that stocky body.

Finally I grabbed his collar and led him to the back door in what was probably a violation of all of our positive reinforcement training that we had done in the last year. It was old school training. It did not hurt him, was not cruel, and gave him the reminder that he must listen to me.

Once inside I sat and waited for him to cool down and stop panting, as we do every day to prevent bloat. He drank water and flopped in front of the central air vent. In the meantime I decided on a whim to check my pet poison app on my phone. I was not too concerned as many of the dog treats I bought contained cherries so I knew the fruit was safe for canine consumption.

My heart skipped a beat as I read that cherry tree leaves contain cyanide and were deadly when consumed in toxic amounts. But what was a toxic amount?? How many leaves had he had?

Our veterinarian is on my speed dial so I called the office. None of the doctors would be in for an hour. I phoned the pet poison control line, paid my $40.00 and spoke to a vet about the issue. She eased my mind that Jackson had not consumed many leaves and that the issue was usually with horses and cattle that grazed and ate a lot of leaves.

My mind somewhat eased, I went outside an yanked the tree out of the ground. It came out easily and I put it in our front yard to deal with it later. The pet sitter was coming today and I wanted to make sure Jackson did not get to any more leaves. He still looked like a normal dog, panting and giving me the labrador eye that says “Uh, Mom, where’s my food?”

As I scooped the dog food into bowls I kept thinking of the leaves full of cyanide sitting in my puppy’s stomach. I stopped filling the bowls, called the vet’s office again and arranged for Jackson to stay in their medical day care area under observation. There was no way I was leaving my baby in his crate, helpless, while I left and went to my doctor and to work. No way. If they could not have taken him, I would have cancelled the doctor and skipped work today without even a second thought.

Now, fourteen hours later, we have learned that the number of leaves he ingested would not have been a toxic amount. The pet poison hotline also told my vet that the dried leaves contain a higher concentration. The most important information came from my husband, who ironically was attending a hazardous materials training class and spoke to one of his instructors. The Bing cherry tree is a different type of tree and the leaves are not toxic.

I will always go with the “better safe than sorry” mindset. An $80 fee is nothing compared to peace of mind of having a safe and healthy puppy. Racing to the vet in pajamas, unbrushed teeth, and wild bed head is nothing compared to peace of mind of having a safe and healthy puppy. Arriving late at my own appointment and forgetting to eat is nothing compared to peace of mind of having a safe and healthy puppy. These are the moments you sign up for when you take on a dog. It is part of the committment to keep them safe.

As I watch him sleep I flash forward to ten years from now, when his muzzle will turn white and he will sleep more than he plays. I imagine stroking his beautiful face, telling him the story of how he scared momma half to death one summer morning when he started to chow down on Bing cherry tree leaves, and how it was a false alarm. I imagine him picking up his big blocky head, giving me a lick on the face, as if to say “Momma, I have no idea what you are saying, but I’m glad I am here with you”.


Self Taught Dog

A few months ago I blogged about the commands that Jax had learned at his puppy classes. As we approach the anniversary of the day he came home to us I sometimes marvel at the phrases that he has learned on his own. They say the best way to learn a language is to live among the speakers of that language…apparently that holds true for dogs as well!

Kong: We stuff our Kongs and freeze them, prolonging the licking fun and the quest for treats. Typically we fill them with the canned version of our holistic dog food, but sometimes bananas, treats, peanut butter and pumpkin make an appearance.



Puppy Lunch: Puppy lunch was a special meal for the first year of Jackson’s life. Puppies eat three times a year and we were able to keep this up for the entire first year of his life. We were sad to see puppy lunch end just because of the name!

Do you wanna: This can precede anything, logical or not. So far he’s wanted to do it all!

Maggie,want a treat: This can be used to psych out the puppy when he is being stubborn and pretending not to know the come command. Using treat envy is probably not endorsed by dog trainers but it works like a charm when he sees us giving his big sister a tasty morsel!

Daddy: The other day I referred to my husband, aka Daddy to the kids and dogs. Jax immediately ran to the door to see if daddy was home from work yet. Such a smart pup!

Duck duck: The name of his first mallard toy.

Bird: Just like it sounds, I point out the birds in the sky as they fly by.

Boney: One of many bones or antlers. Usually follows “go get your”.

Upside down puppy: To start a snuggle session Jax never simply lays down like a normal dog. Instead he has a special motion where he approaches you head first, tucks his shoulder down, and does a sort of half front flip, rolling onto his back with all four legs up, belly ready for rubbing.

When you think about it, people who are close to each other often have a common language, private jokes, and body language that only they know. The same holds true with our family, our sweet Jackson, and our bond that spans species.

Labrador Winter Wonderland

As much as Jackson disliked the Chicago summer and temperatures over ninety he adores the Chicago winter. Winter took a long time coming to us but in the last ten days we have had two significant snow storms with enough snow for Jax to frolic like, well, like a puppy.

Jax’s favorite snow day activity is playing with the kids’ sleds. We have several plastic sleds in the backyard and the wind the day before the first snow scattered them throughout the yard. Jax dug them up like buried treasure and has found complete and utter joy in racing through the yard with a sled hanging from his mouth. Sometimes he trips over them, sometimes he tries to chew them, and sometimes he digs them back out of the snow after I bury them to prolong the fun.

His other favorite game is playing chase with Maggie. Running through the snow wears the dogs out as if they were running through sand, and as anyone with a lab puppy knows, a tired puppy is a good puppy. They race around the yard, lap after lap after lap, zigging and zagging, changing who chases who, play nipping at each other, and having the time of their lives.

This year I bought snow pants and cute new winter hats for the first time in years and I have had a fantastic time with Jax and Maggie out in the snow. I think I have spent more time in the snow this winter than in at least a decade, back to when Babe was a young dog and we would hike through the snowy trails of our favorite park.

Tonight I played with them as it was getting dark. I was bundled up in good snow gear with only a small part of my face exposed. It was fifteen degrees and snowing hard and it felt absolutely blissful to frolic in the snow with the dogs. It took me back to my childhood and teenage years in New Jersey where skiing was our passion in life and I used to relish the times we went skiing at night and it snowed. Falling snow is so quiet and peaceful when you are in the right clothes and the right mindset.

For years I have hated the snow, mostly because of commuting through it, and then because of the issues with senior dogs navigating the icy terrain and the frozen deck, falling down, slipping and sliding. But just like he has done with so many other things, Jackson is completely responsible for making me actually look forward to today’s storm to prolong the fun that we are having in our little winter wonderland.

Good boy!

When Jackson came into our home he was essentially a blank slate. He was a much loved and well bred blank slate, and he had been taught to sit and wait for his food, but other than that his mind was ours to mold.

At  nine and a half months I am very proud of our work with our pup.  We are novices who have a strong love of dogs and have gathered knowledge and experience from books, videos and a lifetime of dog ownership.

We have completed puppy class, beginning obedience, and intermediate obedience at a great privately owned dog training center near us. Jackson has finished the doggie equivalent of middle school. We still have advanced obedience, which I compare to high school, and retriever training, which is essentially his Bachelor degree. He may minor in dock diving and I would like to get the Canine Good Citizen, which I compare to Summa Cum Laude.

I am so proud of the things we have taught him:

  • Sit
  • Stay
  • Down
  • Stand
  • Shake hands
  • Touch (jump up and touch our outstretched hand)
  • Easy (don’t bite our fingers when we give a treat)
  • Sit/stay
  • Down/stay
  • Sit/stay to wait for food
  • Sit/stay and down/stay with motion going on around him and with  a tennis ball bouncing
  • Come
  • Name means look at me
  • Release
  • Off  (leave it)
  • Kiss
  • Kennel
  • Reliable recall (secret word to which he runs immediately to us)

We are still working on several things but have not quite perfected them:

  • Stand/stay\
  • Settle
  • Walking on a loose leash at a decent heel without pulling
  • Sit/stay at the door
  • Go lay down (to his bed)
  • Sit/wait/retrieve/release

During our graduation from intermediate obedience school there is a contest that consists of four stations:

1. Sit

2. Sit/down/sit/stand/down/stand

3. Sit/stay and sing “How much is that doggie in the window, woof woof”

4. Sit/down/sit/stand/down/stand

5. Sit

It is timed and we could not use words, only hand signals. Jackson and I blew the competition away at a time of thirty eight seconds. Our prize was a keychain from the training school but I felt like we had just won Westminster as we walked up to claim our prize. I look at that keychain on my ring each day and feel a surge of pride at the bond that exists with our Jackson.

To teach Jackson is simply amazing. I do not think there is anything we cannot teach this dog as long as we continue to learn how to shape his mind and keep him motivated. His energy could power the house if we could harness it but once we have his attention he learns quickly. Just like any of us there are days when he just does not want to learn anything.

We still have a huge task of retriever training. We have started and he is understanding the basics.   My husband has the goal of bird hunting, and I would like to become involved in hunt tests. It is in his breeding, in his blood, and as much as I know he is happy here with us I know it will make him an even happier and more complete lab when he can let his birdy genetic background go to work.

Flap, flap, flap, jingle, jingle, jingle

The other night I was woken by a familiar sound. Flap, flap, flap, jingle, jingle, jingle. Flap, flap, flap, jingle, jingle, jingle. Again and again, flap, flap, flap, jingle, jingle, jingle. This went on for about fifteen minutes, followed by a deep sigh and then silence. I was in the middle of such a deep sleep that I fell back asleep without investigating.

The following night I was awoken to the same sound,  flap, flap, flap, jingle, jingle, jingle. Again I was so soundly asleep that I did not get up. I knew it was coming from our nine month old lab puppy but since it was not the sound of chewing or destruction I knew neither the puppy nor our possessions were in peril.

When I heard the sound during the day I instantly figured out what was going on. The flap, flap, flap was the sound of Jax shaking his head, and the jingle, jingle, jingle was the sound of the tags on his collar jingling as he scratched his head with his back foot. It had been two years since Babe had passed and even longer since we had a dog who could still scratch their head with a back foot. The sound I was hearing was the sound of an ear infection. Flap, flap, flap, jingle, jingle, jingle, all the while our Jax scratching his head trying to get some relief.

It was a Saturday and the vet closed in an hour. I tried to clean the ear but he had made it raw and open in spots and would not let me come near him with the cloth soaked in the cider vinegar and water solution that we now use instead of store-bought ear cleaner. I smelled the ear and knew instantly that it was not just dirty. After thirty-five years of Labradors as companions I can sniff out an ear infection like they can sniff out a bird.

Finally Monday came and we were able to take Jax in to see the doctor. Diagnosis: ear infection. Treatment: oral antibiotic and Panalog in the ear twice a day. Easy enough! After years of caring for senior dogs,  giving physical therapy to our Bassett Hound and teaching her to walk again, dealing with tumor removals, teeth extractions, barium tests and elaborate pill schedules it was going to be a breeze to give some pills and a squirt of Panalog in each ear twice a day.

The pills went down without incident, helped along by a blob of peanut butter, or doggie crack as we like to call it. Jax is already familiar with the peanut butter blob masking his monthly heartworm pill, so he didn’t hesitate to gulp down his cephalexin capsules and then lick the spoon as clean as if it had come straight from the drawer.

He was trusting the first dose of Panalog. He sat politely on command and licked my face when I knelt down to pick up his ear to access the ear canal. I put the tip of the Panalog in his ear and gently squirted a pea sized drop.

Jax bolted and ran into the next room with speed that could rival a greyhound and threw himself on his dog sofa in a dramatic and violated manner. I swear I saw betrayal and distrust on his beautiful face. But I still had another ear to squirt.

“It’s ok sweetie, Momma is going to make your ears feel better” I told him. “Good boy, stay. Stay. Stay, good boy” I calmly told him, slowly walking toward him, bottle of Panalog behind my back.

As soon as I got near him he bolted, heading behind the kitchen table. I headed around the table to the left, he went to the right, I headed right, he went left, keeping the table between us. We did this multiple times until I grabbed a handful of treats. The first few treats were teasers, trying to win back his trust.

Finally he let me grab his collar. This was not how I wanted this to go down but I could tell he would not let me near his ear willingly. I tipped the bottle and carefully inserted it into his other ear, making soothing “it’s ok” sounds the whole time. As soon as I got close he threw himself to the ground, pitifully looking up at me, a puppy who had lost a battle of wills with his momma and who was going to end up with an ear full of medicine.

We have thirteen more days of this. By the time we are finished I may be qualified to participate in calf wrestling.

Healing Power of Jax

I logged into my blog for the first time in weeks and realized I have not written anything in nearly two months. I have so many ideas, so many “I should blog about that” moments in life, so many thoughts going around in my mind that I want to get into words. I also have a nearly seven month old labrador puppy, so although the thoughts and inspiration are in my mind, the words that come out are usually “Jax, no” and “Jax, what are you eating” and “Jax, off”.

Being the dog momma to a labrador puppy has been an amazing experience. Our last three dogs have been rescued, so this was my first puppy in a long time, and the first puppy that I have had as an adult. I have watched our baby grow from a tiny helpless newborn to a big boistrous and lovable adolescent dog. Although he did not come home to us until the standard 8 weeks, our breeder was wonderful about sharing photos of our boy.

Jax has done a lot of good things for me. The thought of bringing him into our lives, and the fact that he would need us for hopefully the next fourteen to fifteen years was one of the primary reasons I quit smoking. On his second day home we took him for a walk around the block and ran into a neighbor who had just smoked a cigarette before we walked up. Although she had put the cigarette out the odor was on her hands and clothing and when she handed back my jet black bundle of labrador love he reeked of smoke. The thought of my puppy smelling like that was motivation to stay quit, and I just passed six months smoke free without a hitch.

Jax has also cured the insomnia that I battled. Jax quickly adopted a bedtime of 10pm and started giving us a 6am wake up call. Of course in those first two weeks there was also a midnight, 2am and 4am wake up call, but it did not take our pup long to sleep through the night. My husband I were so exhausted those first two weeks that we counted down the minutes until 1opm so we could fall into the bed. Five months later the puppy and I go to bed at 10 and are up at 6. Every now and then, like this morning, he will let me sleep until 7, and I wake up feeling like I’ve slept part of my day away.

My morning schedule has changed dramatically. Six to seven in the morning on workdays is my time alone with Jax and our Basset Hound Maggie. It is a precious hour for me and a perfect way to start the day. First a potty break in the yard, followed by a ten to twenty walk with Jax. Maggie stays home for that, watching balefully from our picture window. A nine year old Basset is not a good walking companion with a seven month old labrador. Although I can handle them on the leash together I often feel like I am being drawn and quartered, with Maggie stubbornly smelling the same patch of grass for five minutes and Jax trying desperately to see what is around the next curve of the sidewalk.

After we arrive home it is time for breakfast. Puppies eat three times a day and Maggie is temporarily on the puppy feeding schedule, at least until Jax turns a year old. Jax is a master at the sit and stay to wait for his food. He jumps into his position in the corner of the kitchen and sits upright at attention. I put his slow-down food bowl across the kitchen, give Maggie her bowl, and then turn my attention to the waiting Jax. He stares intently into my eyes waiting for the “ok” command to release him to eat. My husband and I vary the time and throw out fake release words. Jax’s stay each meal is impressive and although he drools like a garden hose, he will not break his stay until the “ok” command is spoken.

While Jax and Maggie eat I have a bowl of cereal, which is also a new habit. Prior to the puppy I would consume two cups of coffee each morning and then wolf down a bagel at the office. Our morning walks now wake me up much better than coffee, so although I still enjoy my morning coffee I consume much less of it and have time to eat a much healthier breakfast at home.

After breakfast I head into our family room and sit on the floor for snuggle and playtime. Since Maggie went through back surgery a few years ago she cannot jump onto the sofa, so I get down to her level for hugs and kisses. Jax comes in for a petting head first and usually ends up folded in half and upside down, often biting his own tail or foot. I cherish these years when he can still do that, when there is not a hint of gray on his muscle, when he is still a giant lovable and bendable goofball.

The best healthy habit that I have resumed since Jax came into our home has been walking. I have always loved to be outside and to be active, although I have gone through a few couch potato periods of my life, the worst being the last few years when I was caring for my two senior dogs. I don’t think I realized just how stressful it was to watch my furry babies grow old and sick and get to the point where they no longer wanted to walk further than a few feet off the deck. I think I was more depressed about their aging process than I ever conciously realized.

As soon as the opressively hot July weather broke Jax and I started walking together. I realized he had hardly seen the world outside of our house. During May and June we kept him on our property until he had all of his shots, and the month of July was so hot and humid that even he did not want to spend any time outside. For the last two months we have been able to walk twice a day, our quick morning walk and another longer walk in the evening lasting twenty to forty minutes. Weekends we have gone for a few hour long strolls, and as he grows older and the weather grows cooler we should be able to really get some good exercise on the walking trails.

Not everyone can understand the love that we have for our dogs, the bond that we share, the reasons we put so much effort into giving them the best lives possible. I have spent every day since May 5 making sure that Jax does not injure himself or get into dangerous situations. I feed him an extremely high quality holistic food, an alkaline diet that will hopefully prevent the canine cancer that took my Dutchdog from me. My husband and I have worked on obedience training since the day he came home, making sure he is a good dog and will listen to us if he is ever in danger. I watch over the snacks that we feed him with the vigilence of a new mother.

We give so much to him and he gives so much in return. I think back to the conversation we had when we were deciding whether or not to take the puppy with the broken leg. We pondered the cons and then asked ourselves “what if he turns out to be a special dog?” I think we’ve found out the answer to that. Jax is definitely a special dog and I can only hope to make him as happy as he makes me.

Labrador Retriever Spin Cycle

There are some aspects of owning a young Labrador Retriever that I had forgotten about, particularly after spending the senior years with my beloved Babe and Dutch. One thing that I had forgotten about was the process of drying a soaking wet lab. If I had any doubts about Jax’s breed he would have just erased them following our morning walk when he exhibited this classic labrador behavior.

I love walking in the rain as long as I do not have to look nice. If I have worked hard on hair, makeup, or clothing I will reach for my umbrella with the first drop of water, but if I do not have to impress anyone by presenting a polished exterior and as long as there is not lightning, I grab the Bean raincoat and head outside with Jax.

This morning was perfect labrador weather in Illinois, a rainy October morning with the temperature hovering close to fifty. Jax doesn’t mind a little rain, and his breed was built for this weather. This is the weather that we have waited for through a hot summer that consisted of the blazing sun and ninety degree temperatures, a weather condition that I called “labrador puppy kryptonite”.

Although we are in a suburban subdivision we did not see another person on this morning’s walk which was possibly because the skies opened up about fifteen minutes into our forty minute stroll. Because we are in what I like to call “the last suburb” before the landscape becomes rural we could hear the gunshots of hunters in the background. Hopefully next year Jax and my husband will be out there with them, but for now Jax is making his way through basic obedience and enjoying his walks with his momma.

Jax was the perfect picture of obedience when we arrived home. Still in his fancy new anti-pull harness he sat and stayed on my command while I fetched the towel. I am trying to teach him the word “towel” so that he stands calmly and lets his humans dry him before releasing him into the house. The other dogs have known this command and our Basset Hound Maggie will even roll on her back with paws up when we say “show us your paws” during the drying process.

The first few seconds of the “towel” experience went beautifully. Then his Labrador instinct kicked in. Since up until now he had patiently let me dry him with the towel  I had forgotten that labs prefer their human’s pant leg over even the fluffiest towel, so Jax dried his head and neck on the inside thigh of my yoga pants. After that portion of his body was dry he pulled away from my grasp with lightning quick reflexes and began what I have dubbed the ” labrador spin cycle”.

The “labrador spin cycle” phase is not elaborate and can vary from dog to dog. Although some humans may try to stop the process, it is an extremely effective way to dry a lab. It starts with a tail to head shake from the wet lab and is quickly followed by a wild-eyed lunge to the left and to the right in the play stance. What happens next is entirely freestyle and depends on the lab but essentially involves a high-speed run through the house. The number of laps may vary until the double coat is dry and some labs like to rub against the sofa to utilize the absorbent fabric that covers most household furniture. The end of the cycle occurs when the lab stops running and stands in front of you panting.

In older labradors the towel becomes the best method since wet paws and sore joints will make it difficult to perform the spin cycle. For now I will enjoy and embrace the spin cycle routine in my very young Jax, especially since it results in a nice dry lab to hug and kiss when it is finished.