two months

It was January 18th when we drove away from the Pet Food Express in Palo Alto. I was up front, trying to take it easy on the turns, Leslie was in back, trying to comfort the 11-pound puppy honking like a monkey.  I don’t think I was well rested again for 3 weeks.

Now I’m typing this and Sous is quietly chewing on the ground beside my desk. She’s free to wander around the living room and kitchen, but usually settles down somewhere near me. I can more or less work all morning now, with a few pauses for a training session or a game of fetch (which, so far, she only plays indoors). It now takes her at least 2 minutes out of sight to get into trouble, which is like an eternity compared to the 4 seconds it was those first days. She has tried to put everything in the apartment into her mouth at least twice, and is starting to show signs of recognizing just how small the class of things allowed in there really is.

Things are in fact so much easier now that topics other than the dog occasionally cross my mind. Last week I finished my contract job, and I’ve been able to really turn my attention back to thesis research. The plan is to work with maniacal intensity for the next two months so that when I give my dissertation talk in May, I won’t have to fabricate the second half. I’ve also been trying to find worthwhile games to play. Most recently I’ve been toying with Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which I can’t figure out why everyone loves. Yes, it has a bunch of Nintendo characters, but how is the game actually fun?

breaking new ground

Look! Sous can imitate internet memes:

Sous waits for biscuits

It looks like Sous has reached an age where she is developing some self control. Not only can she occasionally do reliable stays while I stand around the corner, she now knows “leave it,” which basically means “don’t touch that thing you really want that’s right in front of you.” The corollary of course is “take it,” which is really her favorite part. For some reason tricks where she doesn’t do something are more impressive to me than ones where she does.

Even more exciting was our first trip on Sunday to the off-leash dog park at the Berkeley marina. Although the park is on a peninsula, it’s big (about 30 acres), and the off-leash area doesn’t actually extend to the edges of the peninsula. So there’s this little 17-acre circle in the middle where dogs are allowed off leash. I had kind of pictured a fence around it, but no such luck–just stakes with “leaving off leash area” written on them here and there.

Every previous dog of mine has had totally reliable behavior when you took off the leash, and that behavior is to rocket away from you as fast as possible. The next step was usually the “keep at least 100 yards away from Bryan” game, but it was also sometimes the “disappear for hours until you hop into a stranger’s pick-up” game. People walking around with their dogs dutifully following off lead has always seemed kind of like a fantasy magic world to me.

So, it was with considerable trepidation that we unhooked Sous’s leash. She immediately trotted directly away from us about 20 feet, and my heart sank. She bounded through some tall grass, scaring off birds as we sheepishly followed, and then something amazing happened. She looked back at us. I crouched down and did my most convincing “Sous, come!”, and she starts rocketing toward me with this huge puppy smile. I couldn’t believe it. We got a repeat performance a couple of minutes later, and then realized that we could walk along and she would stay generally with us, never letting us get more than 20 or 30 feet away. She would greet other dogs politely, maybe play a little if they were down, but we could always get her back to us, and in the absence of other dogs she stayed pretty close. I was on cloud nine… this was always part of my dog dream, but I didn’t think I was going to start living it at 4 months!

George and Jana joined us for the rest of the afternoon and we just strolled around, meeting interesting dogs and people, including a 120-lb old lady with her 145-lb Rhodesian ridgeback–quite a pair! I think we’ve got a picture that we’ll try to post soon, but I think you could have stuffed Sous into a jar smaller than this dog’s head.

So anyway… Sous is now officially the best-trained dog I’ve ever had. She’s spending 3 hours alone in her crate each afternoon while I’m at the office, she’s up to 10 days without a housebreaking accident (knock on wood), and acts more and more like a real dog any day. It’s almost like they give you a puppy at 8 instead of 16 weeks just to see if you’re serious.