Friday, August 28, 2009

So Much To Tell

I have wanted to post many times this week but to be frank, I was too tired every night to do anything but roll into bed. What has happened since I last wrote? In a word, lots!

Eye Exams. Tuesday the pups, Amanda and I went to the see Dr Chuck Stuhr in Wilton, CT. This experience gave the pups a longer ride in the van (an hour each way), the chance to hang out in the x-pen near a very busy road so they got to hear traffic sounds, having eye drops put into their eyes to dilate them, playing in the exam room and then having an eye exam. If you've never seen a dog eye exam, it is an unusual experience for them, even the adults. The room is dark, the vet has lights on his headgear and he shines different lights into the dogs eyes. The pups had to hold very still while they were examined and they all did very well. And best of all, they all received a passing CERF (Canine Eye Registry Foundation) exam!

Many people ask us why we take the trouble to take our pups to eye and heart doctors, rather than just our general practitioner. We do it for a number of reasons, most importantly to ensure that we know as much as we can about the health of the pups we sell. Goldens face a number of genetic problems, some of which can be found in puppyhood. Eye problems such as retinal folds, retinal dysplasia, dystichia, entropion and the primary heart problem that goldens face, SAS, can be seen at this age. These early exams are not foolproof since problems can also develop as the pup matures but they are the best we can do with such young animals. There are also a number of congential problems that can happen during fetal development that we like to track. We don't see many of them but they are worth noting.

Temperament and Bird Tests. Wednesday was temperament test day. Naturally, since it is the Summer of '09, it was over 90 degrees. We tested in the upstairs of the guest house, somewhere the pups had never been before AND a place we could air condition. Hot pups just can't show us who they are so the latter was critical.

Marcy Burke did the temperament test. She has been our primary tester for some time now and has terrific timing and rapport with the pups. The pups hadn't met Marcy before and they hadn't been in the guest house so they were meeting a stranger in a strange place by themselves for the first time in their short lives. I am always fascinated to see how pups can change when you take them away from their littermates. Courage definitely comes with numbers in the case of pups. This is one of the reasons that we continue to rely heavily on temperament testing; over the years we have seen significant but persistent changes in some pups when they are on their own. They are confident and bold in the puppy pen and/or with their littermates but become very different by themselves. Since we are looking to produce pups that can stand on their own two feet and be confident workers as individuals, we find this testing extremely important.

We also use a somewhat different temperament test. Rather than the shorter Puppy Aptitude Test, we have adapted Sheila Booth's Positive Puppy Preview. The PPP is a long test, averaging 30 minutes per puppy. This gives us an idea of each pup's stamina and whether or not they accumulate stress over time. We test three drives: food, retrieve and play/tug. We also assess energy level as well as a number of characteristics: environmental/people focus, forgiveness, dominance/submission, pain tolerance, sound and sight sensitivity, courage and persistence, and more. We stress the puppies in a number of ways to see how they handle stress and if playing helps them release it. And, of course, we have fun watching their antics as they leap, pounce, gambol and cuddle their way through the test.

This litter all did well but showed some interesting similarities across all puppies. None of the pups accumulated stress during the test. They were actually more relaxed at the end of the test than they were when they walked in the room. That is rare in our experience. They also all had great noses so their scent work should be very good. And, no surprise, they all turned on to the pheasant wing, easily bounding over obstacles to get to it.

After the temperament test, we brought the pigeons out for some bird testing. We use live shackled pigeons, gradually unshackling them as the pups gain confidence. (I want to emphasize that the pigeons are not harmed during this testing. They are alive and well, if a little pissed off, in our coop.) All of the pups showed good birdiness, snatching and carrying the shackled bird. Most were equally enthusiastic about the unshackled pigeons but a few were bold enough to chase but not carry the flapping prize. However, all showed strong birdiness that will easily develop into good field work with training.

Thursday. That brings us to Thursday and what a day it was. I woke up early intending to pack for the trip to the Structural exam in CT but it was such a beautiful morning, that I had to take the pups for a walk. Four of the adults, the pups and I headed out into the woods with Lise Pratt, who had helped with the temperament test. There is a video posted showing the start to our walk. There is definitely no video showing the end though.

All went well until we were about 10 minutes out. Lise and I realized that we were missing three pups and the adults had all come back so the pups weren't out with them. Crud! We head down to the swimming hole, since the pups will often follow the dogs there and then stay to play on the bank. We get pups. I decide to call back to Andy, who tells us the pups had come home a few minutes prior. Good puppies!

As we are standing there, both Lise and I see Una aways off, clearly hunting something. Suddenly she bolts toward us, shaking her head. We thought she had stirred up a bee's nest until she got close enough for us to smell her. Skunk! Yuck! The pups took one sniff of her and gave her wide berth.

We head home because I realize I have to bathe Una before we leave for CT. We keep the big dogs close so the pups would stay with us. We are about 5 minutes from the house and we let the big dogs run, since they usually head straight home to the pool at this point in the walk. However, when we get to the house, we are short another three pups and their ever-hunting mother, Risk. Argh! Risk dashes in a few minutes later with no pups in tow.

Ten years we've walked pups in these woods and we've never lost one...until this day. I put Una in an ex-pen outside so she couldn't stink up the house, called Corey and headed back into the woods. I suspected that Risk had headed up the ridge and the pups couldn't keep up so I hung a right and started climbing, swearing at Risk under my breath. Corey and I walked the top of the first ridge line, me calling and her sniffing for pups. Of course, I am also thinking of the darn bear that was around last week. I decided that if I was going to meet a bear, this was the morning to do it because I was pumped enough to take him on. Thankfully, I didn't have to test my cockiness.

Ten minutes of walking and there they were, scrambling up the ridge to my calls. Raz, Purple and Red--very happy to see Corey and I. I slid down the ridge to them and then the rest of the way to the path. From there, they knew their way home. As I trailed them in, I decided that Risk was fired from puppy walking!

A quick de-skunking made Una tolerable so we loaded up the pups and Risk and headed for Dr Debbie Gross Saunders' facility in Colchester, CT. She was to evaluate the pups' structure for performance. This was their longest van ride yet--2 1/2 hours each way but they did wonderfully. In addition to being evaluated, the pups met "Pig," the Saunders' pot-belly pig, the burros, ponies and cow. They hung out in Deb's treatment room next to dogs in the underwater treadmill and the kennel. They met kids, grown ups and more. It was truly an adventure! Photos and videos are posted.

During the week, we also took some 7 1/2 week stacked and head shots. Those are or will be up shortly.

Whew, I know that was long but I think you are up to speed on what we've been doing. Final placement decisions will be made today and tomorrow then the serious work of getting the pups ready to go home must be done.

All of that means that I have to get back to work!


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