Adventures with Kit: Chapter 1

Kit at 8 weeks. Innocence!

A fluff ball, for sure! Kit was born August 15, 2015 and at eight weeks of age, she came home to live with us.

 For several years, I thought I was finished with breeding and training German shepherds but seeing friends having fun with their puppies whet my appetite and I couldn’t resist finding a pup to join our lives. My Framheim dogs were all but gone. A senior male, Zen was the sole Framheim dog with us. After more than thirty years with breeding shepherds, I was starting over.

Studying pedigrees and researching breeders, the focus was finding the kind of pup I wanted and a pedigree that might be a good match for our Axel vom Steffen Haus whose frozen semen we had retained.  Axel was born in 1987 and had been an exceptional dog, competing in Germany and the US successfully. He had also produced dogs of outstanding character and health. An Axel litter would be my final chapter of a life with shepherds.

So – considering the many characteristics I hoped for, this little piece of fluff held the future I wished for.

In the coming blog posts, we will discuss Kit and our journey of relationship building from when she joined our family in 2015 to where we are today in 2019 as she celebrates her 4th birthday. It’s been an adventure!

Kit at 4 months of age.

Let’s Play – or maybe not

Puppies are magnets for learning! Everyday in every way, they are learning to be dogs in a human world. The first few months after a pup comes home with their new family are critical in building the kind of relationship you want. The foundation of the human and dog partnership is forming during this time.

I teach pups with games when they are young. We begin with toy tosses and when puppy brings the toy back towards me, I have another toy ready to toss. Wiggle the toy, when puppy drops the toy they have in their mouth, quickly, I toss the next toy. The pup learns to retrieve and is not put ‘in conflict’ of giving up their prized toy since another toy is thrown immediately. We turn this game into a ‘Recall /Come” game with treats, too, but the pup eats the treat, obviously.  It’s all Fun! Pup is learning she can trust this new human – critical for a solid partnership.

Within the first few days with Kit, I discovered she was not a puppy who followed – ever. Whereas most young puppies naturally follow people and older dogs, she didn’t. She ran off in every direction other than where we were going.

Never fear! We were armed with pockets of treats, toys and irresistible games like Hide and Seek, Run-away Recalls and Round-Robin recalls. Run-away recalls are pretty obvious: you run away, and puppy runs after you for loads of treats, toys and playtime. Round-robin recalls are with two or more people calling the pup to come for more treats, toys, play and affection.  It’s a game that puppies love. Well, most puppies!

 When I introduced these games to Kit, she scrutinized me with a calculating eye and trotted in the other direction. Time to appeal to her prey drive so toys on strings were wiggled and waggled. She scurried off grabbing sticks, stones, whole clods of dirt and grass, even grabbing mouthfuls of bark from tree trunks and proceeded to play with those. She tried to eat everything and anything! Those little black eyes gleaming at me as if telling me that I was of no consequence. She didn’t need me or my silly toys. She had a world of playthings of her choosing. She only had to grab a stone or stick and it was ‘Game on!’  I had the distinct impression; she was scoffing at my enticements to play.  For a pup so young, there was something uncanny about this pup and her dark intensely calculating eyes.

Just a few days after her home-coming, she looked peaked. One gets to recognize the serious from the not-so-serious sickly looks. This was serious. Peter had just driven away with our one and only vehicle. In retirement, we hoped we would require only one car. I called our vet and they were prepared for us. As I feverishly dialed Peter’s phone, I collected necessities to take to the veterinarian. Peter has this aggravating tendency to not answer phones or check messages. I rang repeatedly until a slightly annoyed Peter answered with, “Why are you calling me over and over? I am driving!”

When he heard our urgency, he swung the van around and was home quickly. We raced to the vets.

The veterinarian returned to our exam room with baby Kit and showed us x-rays. Her intestines were filled with pebbles and stones. The vet announced that, “This little girl has been eating inappropriate things for a very long time.” We were given a special canned diet and warned to watch her carefully for the next 10 days to two weeks to be certain she was passing the small quarry she had collected inside. If she stopped eating or had more incidents of feeling sick, they might have to surgically remove these stones.

Kit was already dragging a leash or long line everywhere because of her independent nature. Now, we had an even more urgent need for her to be supervised every minute: What she considered a funny game of playing with ‘nature’s toys’ could kill her.

She survived – with her recalcitrant demeanor intact. It was time to up the act. We instituted something similar to Nothing In Life is Free (NILF). Obedience trainers develop training methods and like to assign snappy names to them. There have been various versions of NILF. In a nutshell, the dog performs a behavior in exchange for something it wants. Going in and out of crates, kennels, doorways; waiting for meals and treats – everything was preceded by Kit being asked to give a behavior. It could be ‘come’, ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘wait’ or a trick – anything, just so she learned to comply with her human’s requests. It is all accomplished with a smile and merriment on the human’s part.  The point is to make the human relevant to the dog. “You, my dear dog, depend on me, your significant human, for everything in life. Aren’t you lucky!”

Kit loved being busy so more things to do with the NILF program was fun to her. That was exactly what I had hoped. She still gave me her evil eye and exploited every chance to follow her own wishes but we were making progress. I was also learning this was going to be a very long process. Her exceptional intelligence combined with her wily and determined nature meant that every interaction with her had to be purposeful.

Everything was a game but with very serious intent: For Kit to learn to be a partner!

Kit and I were just getting to know each other. This was going to be an adventure! Stay tuned as Kit and I travel a sometimes bumpy road together…..Well, mostly together!

photo by Sherri Clendenin

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