Monday, January 24, 2011
Welcome Cherry Blossom
We picked up our puppy Friday evening. When we got to the breeder's she said, "Let me bring out the puppies" and my heart skipped a beat. We had been told that she would pick out our puppy for us, but since she was bring out two puppies, maybe we would have a choice. This turned out to be the situation. Both puppies were happy playing and very affectionate with us, they both licked us enthusiastically. But while the breeder left the room for a little while my husband and I looked at one another and almost together said, "the light one is for us". We had an immediate favorite. In the car home I said to my husband, "what was it about her that made us pick her?" and he thought for a few moments and said, "she was more relaxed". It was precious when the breeder returned the puppy that we would not be taking to her mother. Our puppy sat and gazed at the door that her playmate had disappeared from and was very still with puzzlement and sadness, for indeed she had never been without the company of her siblings.
Sitting and looking at you with a steady gaze is something that Cherry is good at. She just studies your face, waiting. Catching the intelligent gaze of a German Shepherd is what I think I love about the breed the most. I don't have a picture yet of her looking at me with a studying air about her. I was taking photographs of her without the flash on and the shutter speed was so slow that very few pictures came out in focus. But I will take more pictures, and try to capture what I see as her best quality.
Our puppy might be fundamentally laid back, but she is oh so many other things as well. We are going to have to do a good job socializing her because she has a shy streak. Not around us in the kitchen, here all she wants to do is play and explore. She gallops when she is happy, like when you call her name and she comes to you. She will run with great leaps in the air and her paws go "thud, thud" as they pound the linoleum floor.
But when we have visitors she hides in her crate. When she is picked up by a stranger she shakes. There are many things that cause her to shake. The cat walking by. The garbage can outdoors. A running car motor. In fact, for the first time today I got her to walk to the end of the street. The street where we park is a dead end and very quiet, but in front of our front door is a street that has moderately heavy traffic and she has been afraid to go walking near it. I took a plastic container filled with doggie treats and shook it as we walked toward the busy street. Every few feet she went forward I rewarded her with a treat. Eventually we made it to the beginning of the street. More treats, and then she turned tail and tried to make it as fast as she could back to where our driveway begins and familiar territory.
Last night we went out to rent a movie and my husband held her in his lap in the car. At first she shook and then relaxed. My husband entered the store holding her and again she shook but then relaxed. He got the man working behind the counter to pet her. Tomorrow I am going to my therapist's and I have permission to take her with me. I'll put her crate into the back of the car, then put her in it. This is the way I drove to the vet's yesterday. What was encouraging at the vets was that in the waiting room Cherry happily went up to strangers and licked their hands. So she is friendly, that might beat her shy streak. At my therapist's all I want is for him to feed her treats, and if he's willing, hold her. My therapist's office is in a library (a library where people bring their dogs believe it or not - that's the luxury of a sleepy little town) and I hope to get the librarian to socialize with the puppy as well. I'm a little desperate for as many strangers as possible to handle Cherry. I even went as far as to approach a teenager chipping ice across the street and asked if he would hold her. He said no but his mother came out to see what was going on. I've forgotten her name, even though sometimes we wave to one another. I explained to the mother that my puppy needed strangers to hold her and the mother took Cherry into her arms. She said, "is she shaking because it is cold outside or because she's scared of me" and I said, "a little of both". So we went indoors. Never been in their house before even though we are neighbors. The mother swayed back and forth while she held Cherry and eventually Cherry stopped shaking. Then her son came in and agreed to hold the dog as well. Cherry even went as far as to lick both their hands, a very welcome sign.
Funny thing is, I am a shy person. It is hard for me to approach people I don't know well. But I want the best for my dog. I care about her personality growth. So I'm really pushing myself in contacting people to come over to the house. In two days a woman from Church is coming over to do some volunteer work (the pictorial directory, still not finished) and I had to reverse plans - we had set it that I was to go to her house. For the past year I've been working at her home. But I called her asked her for the favor to come over to my house. I said please, spoil my dog with treats. And she laughed and said that a dog she once owned peed with fear whenever someone new entered the house. So she knows the consequences if I don't socialize, she knows what I'm trying to avoid.
Cherry is lucky that she has emotional, caring owners. She is so sensitive that she could be easily ruined. Perhaps most German Shepherds are like this. The vet told me yesterday that she defiantly recommends puppy kindergarten. But this put me in a terrible predicament. The breeder said that she used to teach puppy kindergarten, and then one of the puppies got sick with parvo (because they were too young to receive the vaccination) and gave parvo to all the other puppies and some died. "Never again!!!!!!! No kindergarten, no Petco, no Petsmart, no place where other dogs go, you are smart enough that you can teach her the basic commands, sit, stay, come, down, and you are smart enough to make certain she gets a lot of socialization!!!!!!!" said the email, with all those exclamation marks. I promised the breeder that we would guard our dog's health and not take her to where there were other dogs until she had her three series of shots, at about 16 weeks of age. So I repeated all this to the vet and the vet shook her head. "I've seen so many dogs euthanized because of bad behavior, the number of deaths from euthanization way outweighs the number of puppies that get sick" she said. "You can wait until her next vaccination at twelve weeks to start puppy kindergarten". So there it was, two conflicting advice, both given with the most urgent regard.
If Cherry weren't a shy German Shepherd, if she were say a Labrador Retriever which just wants to love everyone and be loved by everyone I wouldn't worry so much about puppy kindergarten. But in puppy kindergarten there is puppy play time, where the dogs at the same age play with each other (they need to be socialized with canines as well as humans) and then you play games like pass the puppy, where everyone sits in a circle and you pass the puppy to the person on your left. It is a lot of fun. But you get advice too, as to what to do about nipping and other undesirable behaviors, as well as how to teach basic commands. For instance, I've forgotten how to make a puppy go into a down. I could research the command on the internet. Already I've watched videos that teach the come command and it was very helpful.
Teaching commands doesn't just make an obedient dog, it makes the dog subservient to you and it establishes a hierarchy of control where you are at the top and the dog knows that it is at the bottom. Dogs want structure. They want a hierarchy. And if you don't step up to the plate, and take control, they will think that it is their job to be in control, and trust me, a dog's idea of being the leader is wild, untamed and dangerous. German Shepherds, because they are so smart, want to know exactly the way the world works and what is their place in the hierarchy. I used to think that all a dog needed was love. That was before my beloved German Shepherd puppy Plum tried to take a huge bite out of my shoulder. Her attempt at control, and dominance, taught me that I had to be stronger. My will must never break, it is her will that must be undone. So now I look at my puppy and think "you think you can get your way? You just don't know that I have more patience than you, and that in any contest of wills, I will wait you out, never waiver, and I will always win because I'm a human and you aren't." My husband told me last night that he could never think like that, that it isn't his personality, but I know that you can be trained to think like that, and that it didn't come naturally to me either at first.
Several nights ago Cherry was confined to her crate in our kitchen and my husband and I were out at the grocery store. When we entered the video store I suddenly started crying. Concerned my husband asked what was wrong. This is what I said. "I know its really neurotic but I'm afraid that while we're away our house will catch on fire and Cherry will die." It was so hard for me to be parted from her. It was so hard for me not to have my eye on her every minute. And I was sleep deprived. Cherry was waking us up at three in the morning, howling because she needed to go to the bathroom. And then she howled when we tried to put her back in the crate, so I had to go into the kitchen with her. I had to be awake, either giving her bathroom breaks or correcting her on what to chew. She really wants to chew the bottom of our sofa. So you say no, pull her away from the sofa, and put a toy in her mouth. By now she knows that toys can be chewed on at any time, with any level of aggression. She gets praised for playing with her toys. But I make a horrible noise when she tries to chew my shoes or the ends of my coat. "Epp!" You have to constantly watch her, guide her, and if she piddles or poos, catch her in the middle with a loud "NO!" When she goes to the bathroom outdoors she gets praise, the command "get busy" while it is going on, and after, a doggie treat.
Going outdoors is a bit of a production. You put on your coat and shoes and she immediately knows what is coming next. Then you go to the door and she has to sit pretty and still while you clip on her leash. She must sit again when you take the leash off. In one day she learned how to do this. Also, at various times I take a treat and say "sit" and give her the treat while she is sitting. Once the leash is on Cherry you ring the bell that hangs next to the door and say "Outside" as you open the door. Eventually she will ring the bell when she wants to go outside and alert us to her need. And as you brave the cold, don't forget to grab the treat cup so that after she goes you can reward her. She definitely knows to pee outdoors. So many nice things happen when she pees outdoors. And I'm encouraged that the last time she peed indoors, it was right in front of the outside door, as though she had thoughts in that direction.
Today I had a missed opportunity. My husband got up before me and took care of the dog at 4:30 in the morning. She had two hours of play before he left for work. When he left he put her back in her crate, and for the first time, she didn't whimper and howl. So I could sleep. But my sleep was horrible, for I must have been listening for her sounds. I dreamed that Cherry was drowning. Alarmed I woke fully. I looked at the clock and only twenty minutes of sleep had passed since my husband left. It was 7:05 am. Pre-Cherry I might sleep until 9 or 10. But ever since Cherry has arrived I have lost morning hours of sleep. My medication makes me sleep 10 to 12 hours, but instead I sleep 7 or 8 hours, a luxury for most, but not enough for me. So this leads to days that are foggy and emotionally fragile. Last night my husband said that my cheeks were red. He even got a mirror to show me, he was so concerned. I said it must be a consequence of being over-tired. Sunday my mother visited and said that I had bags under my eyes. And yes, last night after saying that I was so tired I wanted to cry but I couldn't cry, I did indeed weep tears of exhaustion.
I'm giving Cherry Blossom my all. Today I sat in front of a vine that grows in our bathroom and sketched from life exactly 5 leaves. That was all I had concentration for.
And I have not mentioned my newly formed extreme respect for mothers and their newborns or toddlers. My sister currently is living with one of each. My admiration for what she goes through has never been so high.
There are moments of reward. This morning I took the sleeping puppy on the ground into my arms up on the sofa. She must have loved the warmth of my body because she stayed sleeping for another half an hour. As I looked at her this entire time, stroking her soft fur and smelling her, I thought "this is as close as I will ever come to holding my own baby."
So call me a happy wreck.