Puppy Stories

The Breeders
Ten Pounds of Blueberries
Patience with Kids
Pole-Vaulting and Other Keen Yard Toy Tricks
Puppy Riots and Initial Training
The San Diego Trip
How he learned how to back up
The Chewed Shoe
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The Breeders

The Shanshoal Breeders in Renton were where we got Fezzik, when he was a puppy. There were actually two litters within a day of each other and when we first went to see them, they were only a few weeks old. The puppies were born only a pound apiece, and looked like tiny, hairless rats all huddled up next to their mothers. There were eighteen puppies all at the same time.

We got to meet the dad, who was very cool to see, as he was nice, and polite and big, big, big. The mom's were in the boxes with their puppies, and so we got to see what size they were, too, and that they were really cool with the tiny hairless pups.

When we went to see them next, all eighteen four week old puppies were in two divisions of the garage, and it was a chaos of scrambling puppies. Most of them were black like Fezzik, but his dad was half Landseer, which is a recessive trait in Newfs. His mom was all Landseer, so the puppies, as expected, turned out to be half Landseer and half black. Landseer means that the pups are black with white splotches or vice versa. The Big Dog(tm) on Big Dog sportsware is a Landseer Newf, not a St. Bernard as most people assume. The other litter was all black as the mom was black.

At four weeks, they were up and scrambling about and could fit in just one hand. There is actually a picture of me standing with one of Fezzik's Landseer sisters in one hand, and another with John holding Fezzik at that size. The breeders, in order to socialize the puppies well, allowed them into the house a couple at a time, and there were only two puppies left of all the litters that hadn't been promised or sold already. The breeders allowed the two pups in with us, and we watched as they started to bounce and rocket about the living room, dodging kids, cats, and furniture. Not too well, as it turned out.

The family had several cats as well, to make sure that the puppies were cat socialized as well, it seems, and of them, one cat seemed to take it upon itself to play with the puppies, jumping on 'em and wrestling with them and running around with them. The puppies happily scrambled about after the swift and slender cat. The cat decided to run under a coffee table, and it went through without a sound. The lip of the coffee table was just low enough that the puppies heads went 'bump' as they went under the table, and then 'bump' again as they came out. So there was this 'bump-bump' as they rocketed under the table and 'bump-bump' as they came back out.

I think that the cat is why Fezzik is just fine with cats and doesn't chase them or do bad things to four week old kittens.

I thank the breeders, not only for socializing the pups to cats and people, but, perhaps, even doing some paper training, or something, as Fezzik was pretty much paper trained in a day or two after we got him home and then he started banging on the back door to be let out when he wanted to go in a week. He was one smart puppy.

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Ten Pounds of Blueberries

When Fezzik was about 10 weeks old, and we just had him for a few weeks, we were going to meet a friend at a restaurant. We had the VW bus back then, and thought Fezzik would be fine on the floor, on the most part, but for ten pounds of blueberries that we'd just picked up from John's mom. We told each other to make sure that we put the blueberries outside of the car, or something, before we went in for dinner.

Of course we forgot.

When we came back out, we found Fezzik wallowing in blueberries in the back of the van. He'd ripped open the bag and eaten his fill and was rolling around on the upholstery with the rest of the blueberries. His stomach was nearly distended with the amount of blueberries he'd eaten and since he was so young, still his belly was mostly hairless, and, now, pretty purple. His tongue was purple, his teeth were purple and he was the happiest puppy alive, wagging his tiny tail at us when he saw us.

I'll admit it, we laughed instead of scolding him, as it was our fault for leaving the berries in the car. When we managed to round up all the loose and smashed blueberries, we only came up with about three pounds. So he'd eaten seven pounds. When we bought him, he was only eight pounds, he'd doubled in the following week, and then doubled again in two weeks, a nearly linear growth pattern for a good few months.

He never got sick from that incident, and that's when we realized we were really lucky in the health of our dog.

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The first week we had him, we went to go voting. He was tiny, and had a little collar, and was cute and cuddly and we could pick him up and it was amazing, compared to now. He looked like nothing more than a stuffed toy that had been brought to life.

We walked the seven blocks to the school no problem.

The problem was that that evening, I had a meeting elsewhere that I had to get to. John and I got to the voting boothes and found this absolutely enormous line out to the street from the school, and the line wasn't moving. We stayed in line for a good hour and a half, and I finally couldn't stay any longer. John didn't want to keep the puppy with him, so I went back home with puppy Fezzik.

We walked about three block, quickly, back towards home, when Fezzik finally had enough. He just sat down and no matter how much I tugged, pulled, conjoled, scolded, he wouldn't get up. He looked so tired and pathetic that I finally picked him up and started walking with him. He curled up contentedly against me as I jog-trotted home, and ten pounds of puppy gets heavier and heavier and heavier as I kept going.

When I put him back into his pen, he fell fast asleep and was still asleep when I got home. But I think that that's the only time I really, so clearly, remember picking him up and holding him for that long.

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Patience with Kids

Even as a young pup, Fezzik had fine patience with kids. Lots of patience for them. When he was only six monthes old, I was taking him for his walk and this mom with an eighteen month old kid was playing out in front of the house. We walked by and the mom said to the kid, "Come here and pet the doggy!"

It was a hot summer day and Fezzik was panting. I hurriedly got Fezzik to sit, as I had no idea how the pup was going to react to being petted by a kid. The kid was in a walker, and he rolled up to Fezzik and studied the dog intently for a while.

The kid then started to pant, like Fezzik, actually in pretty good time with Fezzik's panting.

Then, suddenly, the kid stuffed his fist in Fezzik's mouth. Possibly to feel what it was that he'd been watching.

Mom reacted in horror, I reacted in horror, Fezzik just sat there and panted around the fist after licking it. He's been equally patient ever since.

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Pole-Vaulting and Other Keen Yard Toy Tricks

Fezzik, when he was a puppy, used to live in a fenced-in yard on a fifth of an acre lot. He had a nice little pen with covered platform, and a yard to play in when we let him out. And in the yard he found toys or had toys and there was a slightly raised patio. He had a great amount of fun in his yard, though it was kinda small for him later on, but as a puppy, it was about right.

One thing he loved was to chew firewood. When we were watching TV, and he was with us, he'd go over to the fireplace, haul out a chunk of firewood bigger than him and then lie down and contentedly chew on it. This was eventhough he had dozens of perfectly good dog chew toys. He seemed to just like chewing on cedar and pine better than rubber or even especially the hard chew toys.

In the yard were sticks and we could play fetch with him when he was younger, because he loved to chase after moving things. Now that he's like 10 he just watches when someone throws things and looks at 'em like they're crazy if they try to encourage him to get them. It's like, why did you throw it away if you wanted it? But back then he loved to chase things, sticks, balls, whatever. He wasn't possessive of 'em, at all, but just liked running around with them.

Somehow or another, he found a huge stick in the backyard, and one afternoon we were watching him happily picking up the five foot long stick and run around the yard with it. He had it close to one end, so had his head way up to do the counterbalancing and his tail was up and he was so happy. Then he ran just a bit too fast, lost control of the far end, and it swung foward and down. It planted.

He wouldn't let go, so he pole-vaulted a good eight feet.

We just died laughing.

Fezzik was so pleased with the reaction that he shook off, picked up the stick and ran around some more.

Another thing we had in that yard were a few old tires that the previous owner had left there, we don't quite know why. But Fezzik loved 'em, would pounce on 'em, bounce off, and, when he got big enough, he'd grab 'em with his mouth and wrestle with them. Somehow, one day, he got his head inside one of 'em, and managed to get the far edge in his mouth, so he was nearly wearing the tire on his head. He got it up, and then ran around the yard with it that way, tail waving, body posture all proud at simply lifting the thing. That was pretty amusing.

The other thing we bought him, that summer, was a wading pool, so that he could go wading in it, though he more often drank from it than anything.

One time when he got bored, he started pawing some of the water out. Then he got his teeth into the edge of the pool and with all his body weight and strength, he yanked at the edge. The water splashed out the far side, and that delighted him so much, he did it again, and then again... until the pool had far less water than before.

Finally, he emptied it so much that he could pick it up. So he did, mouth on the edge of it, and then he raised it, so that he had this huge pool balanced on edge in his mouth and the pool was in front of his face, so he couldn't see where the heck he was going, but, being a puppy (admittedly, a pretty darned huge puppy by this time), he charged about anyway, at full speed.

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Puppy Riots

When Fezzik was just 3 months old, and about thirty pounds or so, we decided to take him to puppy obediance class. I knew I had to have him trained when he was young, as I wouldn't have a chance of handling him when he was full grown if I didn't give him some training. I was going to be the one that was out-massed by him, so had the motivation to get started young.

It was January. Cold out, icy out, sometimes, and I remember, before one class, letting Fezzik puppy out of the car, grabbing his leash, having him want to take off after other puppies and ending up flat on my back on the icy pavement because he completely yanked me off my feet.

That made me very, very determined that he have good leash manners.

It turns out that puppies don't have territory instincts, so they can gather in one room and there isn't any probability of a fight. So they had off-leash times, so that the pups could learn that all strangers are cool and might feed them, and we were all supposed to give treats to the dogs. These off-leash times were a scramble, so I got to calling the classes the puppy riots.

In fact, at one point the instructor was pointing out that the biggest puppies, pointing directly at Fezzik, can be the best friends of the littlest puppies, and he noted a tiny toycup puppy running away from Fezzik. The toy puppy chose that moment to dive under a chair, Fezzik crashed right into the chair and carried it a third of the way across the room... and then licked the toy pup's nose. The tiny pup scrambled happily out from under the chair, through the other side, and Fezzik got stuck *in* the chair...

Fezzik took somewhat rough advantage of the treats as well. Folks often brought the beef jerky ropes, and fed small bits of it to whatever puppy came by. Fezzik would be big enough to reach up and grab, not the bit, but the rest of the rope, make off with it and swallow it before anyone could get it from him. I was following him, once, when we were supposed to catch the puppies again for the next part of the class, and a woman was looking completely bewildered and saying, "He ate the whole thing!"

The instruction was more for the owners than the dogs, which was good. It was to teach us how to teach the pups and let us chose the amount and the emphasis.

Our main emphasis was on politeness. Never, ever, ever jump on anyone. Pause at doors so that people can get through first. No biting. No mouthing, no chewing of things that aren't yours. Drop it. Leave it. Good leash manners, i.e. don't yank the arms off the person walking you. And, most importantly, getting Fezzik both used to us handling his food and us handling him.

They did a really good job not just teaching technique, but why the technique works from a dog's perspective. What it is that makes you the leader of their pack, why they should obey you and want to obey you. How to teach them what certain words mean, what order to do things so that they can, more easily, get the connection.

He's turned out polite, but not particularly obedient, and what's important is that we know that it's because we trained him to be that way. We never really trained for instant response times, or perfect form. Just that he does what we ask when we really mean it. And he does. He also learns much faster than I ever expected, and he picks up things we don't intentionally teach him because he figures things out, and does it with frightening ease when we actually do things right.

One oddity from all the training has been something like the baby elephant trick, it seems. Baby elephants, if you chain them to a log and they can't move, when they grow up, they seem to believe that just the chain can hold them, so if you chain them, they stay. Fezzik, when he was a puppy, we leash trained him a lot, so now that he's big...

Well, there are some times when he doesn't want to get up. Really doesn't want to get up. We've tried picking him up, and he goes dead-body limp, all over, and 110 pounds of dead weight just isn't going anywhere if it doesn't want to. But, magic, presto, if we attach, in any way, a leash-like object to his collar he just gets up. No fuss, no muss, and no more dragging of feet or weight. He just gets up. This can be as simple and primative as looping a sock under his collar and doubling it up to give a very light tug. I still haven't quite figured out why, but he gives up instantly.

It's very useful, though.

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The San Diego Trip

To prove the theory, there was a time, when Fezzik was a good nine months old that we took him down to San Diego, in the Vanagon. It was a 24 hour ride down and up, and he was awfully patient with the whole thing. It's a ride that'll make us sore and we have seats we can sit in. He figured out a bunch of things on that trip and we got a number of keen stories.

One thing he learned was how to back up.

The Vanagon was a stick shift bus, and the two seats in front had some space between them, for the drive or front passanger to go to the back if they liked, and Fezzik liked sitting right between the two front seats as he could get an excellent view out the front window from that vantage. He also loved it up there because he was right next to us and could get petted.

The problem was that he liked to creep more and more and more forward with each passing interesting thing. He kept doing this to the point where he was in the way of the stick shift and John said, "Back up!" and put his hand on Fezzik's chest and shoved him backwards before the stick shift could be reached. John did this a second time, when Fezzik had gotten too close, and did the command, "Back up", the shove, and then got to shift. The third time, when John said, "Back up", when he tried to shove Fezzik all he got was air.

Fezzik had learned what the words meant. With three repeatitions. Throughout the rest of the trip, we just had to say "Back up" and he'd back up from the stick shift. This command was later very, very useful for the moments when he got into situations where he couldn't turn around or we didn't want him to try.

Also, on that same trip Mom proved his cast iron constitution.

Fezzik, in San Diego, was left in the backyard with Andy, my family's cocker spaniel, and Fezzik was mostly just a puppy still and Andy was pretty befuddled by this HUGE young monster thing in his yard. Fezzik was bemused by this little tan thing that waddled about and would occassionally chase him. But the two of 'em got along pretty well. Andy would sleep a lot, as he was old, and Fezzik would go meandering about.

Mom thought Fezzik looked bored, so, of all things, Mom decided to give him a shoe to chew. Fezzik promptly took it, chewed it and then ate it. We found it the next morning in... uhm... well... it'd clearly gone right through the young dog and he hadn't seemed to have any problems with it.

Fezzik and Andy were pretty interesting in comparison. Andy's entire life revolved around food. Fezzik didn't much care about food. Mom, in fact, worried when Fezzik didn't dive immediately into his dinner the way Andy did. Andy would just dive in, nose first, and eat like he was starving, always. We matched the two of 'em up for one dinner, and while Fezzik spent the first half of the time poking his nose into other things, he finally started to eat, and finished about the same time Andy did.

We also gave both dogs a Milkbone, the giant ones, and Andy gobbled his right up. Fezzik, on the other hand, was in the stage where he liked to bury his Milkbones. Yes, buried Milkbones usually would just dissolve in the mud, so we usually kept Fezzik inside when we gave him one. But Mom didn't really like having dogs in the house, so we gave him his outside, and he held it in his mouth and roamed over the entire yard, looking for a place to bury it, or at least cover it up. There were no patches of bare or easily dug dirt, so he finally found a pipe sticking up out of the concrete, and he happily dropped his Milkbone in the pipe. It didn't go all the way in, so he could pick it up again, so he did, and then dropped it in there again, thinking it would be a safe place to keep it.

Andy barrelled up and stole the Milkbone and ate it while Fezzik watched.

Fezzik looked so confused by that it was pretty amazing. John and I were on the floor laughing and Andy ignored all of us and just munched away.

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Fezzik, at the old house, had this thing about balloons. He barks at them a lot, hates the high-pitched sound that the gas valves make when they release high-pressure gas at high speeds. The high pitch makes him bark like mad at 'em. And we used to have balloons flying over the house periodically as we were on the edge of a valley that the balloons liked flying through in the summers. If there was a *woooooosh* of gas, we knew Fezzik would soon be barking.

Fezzik never barked at people. He's always been really, really patient with people.

We didn't find out just how well the balloons trained him until we were driving down I5, going home from a soccer game or something. Fezzik is usually very good in the car, really quiet, just wanders about and looks outside curiously, tracking things with his eyes. This time, though, he just planted all for paws and started barking his head off, at something outside the windows of the car. It scared the heck out of the two of us and I jumped from the passanger seat to see what it was that he was making a fuss about. We couldn't track it, but Fezzik tracked *something* as we moved further away from it, barking as he looked. Finally, I realized it was a tethered advertising balloon.

He'd made the conceptual leap from the Thing that makes the awful noise to Things that look like balloons, and had decided both things were to be guarded against.

Which leads us to the oddest inside joke we've ever had in our lives.

On the way home from San Diego, it was twilight, somewhere just south of Sacramento. We'd stopped at a gas station, for a potty break, a bit of gas, a snack and John stayed with Fezzik while I went to the bathroom.

As John tells it, after I left, Fezzik suddenly started barking and barking at something, and John took one look, and there was this utterly enormous woman walking from the cashier to her car, in a dress that was brilliantly colored. John jumped on Fezzik going, "Shut up! Shut up! You're embarrassing me!" as he realized that Fezzik thought the woman was a balloon...

There was no way in the world the woman could have ever known Fezzik's previous experience, but it still embarrassed the heck out of John.

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