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The Puppy Diaries 4: The $1000 pack of chewing gum

Written by Anna Hollisey


Louie after his first month with us

It’s official: puppies are good for mental health. Whether he’s leaping to catch seed-heads in the long grass, growling at a basketball, or hiding in the bushes because a helicopter went past, Louie’s love for life is contagious. At 4 months old, he’s started school, swam in the ocean, and made some friends. Read on for Louie’s latest Pupdate…

Welcome to Puppy School

Aged 15 weeks, Louie attended his first Puppy Class. It was a very small group of three. “I think Louie is bottom of the class,” whispered my son, 2 minutes in. The pups were instructed to lie on mats (unreasonable) and when we arrived, the other two pups were already lying on theirs (outrageous). Louie plopped his bottom beside his mat for about 0.7 seconds before starting to spring up and down wildly. “Look at that spaniel energy!” marvelled the trainer. While we wondered why the other two puppies were staying so still, Louie tried to destroy his lead. We could tell he loved Puppy School already. 

The trainer handed out bags of ‘high value’ treats – special foods like pate and some other bad-smelling stuff – to use during the session. And then she started on the tasks. 

Week 1 was hard and fast. First, we attempted to get our puppies to leave and then return to the mat. To do this, we had to throw a treat away from the mat and wait for the pupster to return; when he set foot on his mat again, he had a treat on the ground. This, said the trainer, would help us to teach the puppies to stay nicely on their beds or mats when we were in the kitchen or even out on a picnic (which currently seems unthinkable). “They behave the way you want and they get treats brought to them,” she explained. 

Learning their names was the next activity. This was okay, since Louie already knew his – all we did was call his name and give a treat when he looked towards us. (This was a good exercise to practice with two of the kids, who came along.) Easy money for Louie, who is well motivated by a bit of meat. 

Lead-walking for beginners was next. We walked backwards, bent double, rewarding our puppy with treats for walking slowly in front of us. Louie didn’t pull his lead, but I couldn’t understand how this would develop proper lead-walking skills. When this changes, I’ll report back…

Next, Louie decided it was time to roll on his back and destroy his lead some more. “I have a Sprocker too,” remarked the trainer. “She was given to me by a lady who had her for two weeks and couldn’t return her.” The first two weeks, I agree, were the hardest. Refunds may have been mentioned in our household too. 

Finally we practised recall, moving the pups closer together so they could observe one another, then rewarding the pups for disengaging (looking back towards us). This led to calling them using a word (‘here’) and a marker (‘good boy’), which should be associated with a reward. 

Louie is good at recall, provided the person calling has a bag of sausages. No sausage, no chance.

Meeting and Greeting

If you have ever been embarrassed by your dog, I’m right there with you. I’ve taken Louie on the school run twice and regretted it at least twice. If he isn’t leaping like a kangaroo, he’s tangling me up with his lead because he’s trying to make a new friend who is somewhere over there. Louie is an extremely enthusiastic meet-and-greeter. Puppies and small dogs are his favorites, but he also thinks that children are awesome. So the school yard is a big, crazy party for Louie. 

While he’s usually ready to engage and play with canine pals, Louie has become more cautious with bigger dogs, typically staying on the ground or rolling on his back. He doesn’t really care that he’s the submissive one. If dogs could smile, Louie would be beaming every time another dog approaches. 

I’ve been learning about canine body language and these meetings are very interesting. It’s not just sniffing: there’s a whole lot of communication happening, and I can see Louie picking up on a range of signals. Some dogs freeze (which sends a clear message to Louie – go slow) while others will interact gently – one Golden Retriever dipped her head and watched Louie circling with a very fond expression. Some dogs will completely ignore Louie, which puzzles him. 

Once or twice, Louie has found a pup who’s a perfect match. They’ll jump a little bit, run a little bit, then lie flat on the floor nose-to-nose, waiting to see what happens next. Or they’ll jump, run, and stick their rear ends in the air in challenge. The joy is palpable. And isn’t that the greatest thing about the daily dog-walk?

Louie Loves the Ocean

We live 20 minutes from the beach, and we’re a family of sea-swimmers. Our son had his first surfing lesson this week! So we wanted to introduce Louie to the ocean as soon as possible.

During their early months, puppies should not walk too far at once. Because their bones are not completely joined up, strenuous walks can cause damage that will appear later in life. The wise old internet suggests 5 minutes of walking per month of age, which puts Louie at 15-20 minutes walking on the lead. 

So we needed to get him from the car to the ocean in about 5 minutes. We picked a local beach and set off. Then my daughter and I swam out into the sea and – to our surprise – Louie plunged in and followed us right out. All he knew was that he was going where we were going… which took a surprising turn when the ground vanished and his little legs kept propelling him forward. When he reached me he put his paws up to me, in a way that said “pick me up!” – but he soon wanted to go back in and swim to someone else! We didn’t stay in the water for too long. We could tell he was getting tired. 

I can remember our first dog learning to swim. Head high, paws flapping, confused expression. She discovered the water slightly later in her puppyhood but at 15 weeks, Louie was like an otter. We will get him back to the ocean soon and help him to develop a love for the water. It’s great exercise for dogs because it reduces pressure on their joints and helps them to strengthen their muscles. 

Did you hear about the gum that cost $1000?

But it’s not made from rainbow droplets wrapped in gold. This week we discovered that if your puppy accidentally gets hold of your kids’ packet of gum, they can run up a veterinary bill of more than $1000.

Chewing gum gets its long-lasting sweet flavor from xylitol, which turns out to be dog poison. So what happens if your dog decides to sample that sweet taste too? The veterinarian needs to induce vomiting (ideally within 30 minutes) and then monitor the dog’s blood sugar for 24 hours. Xylitol can cause blood sugar to plummet, and it can cause liver failure if consumed in high doses. We weren’t sure exactly how much Louie had managed to eat, so the vet took every precaution. 

I hate leaving a pet at the vet, so I spent the night anxiously waiting for the phone updates. 2-hourly blood tests showed that his glucose was stable, so the worst he was suffering was probably lack of attention. Actually, I think he may not have suffered too much. “He’s very bright and cheerful this morning,” said the nurse when I rang up again. “We’ve all fallen in love with him.”

With his robust constitution, Louie seems to have recovered from the xylitol. I’m extremely sorry to report that gum is not the first or last bad thing he has eaten; Louie loves to steal things and take them to his treasure trove under the far corner of the couch. But a $1000 bill for Louie’s overnight stay at the vet’s (where, at least, he was pampered and petted) is a real incentive to vacuum once an hour. And the kids soberly put all their remaining gum into the trash.

Louie Loves Granny & Grandad

We’d promised the kids a day at a theme park during the summer vacation, so Louie was delivered to Grandma and Grandpa for a lovely day. He took his favorite toy, and did some excited wee when he arrived at their house. 

“He’s being a very good boy,” messaged Grandma later, attaching a picture of Louie with one foot on a polished side-table and one foot on the arm of the couch.

By the time we arrived to collect him at 7pm, Louie was exhausted from a day of running across the pond like a Lizard, racing up and down stairs, dragging brooms around the garden and generally endearing himself to two highly biased grandparents. Like the rest of us, he slept well. But since most of his days look like that, Louie always does.