Orly Wins Cali Over

11-week-old golden puppy Orly plays with Cali, also a golden. They are in lots of snow. cali wears a blue and yellow coat.It finally happened. After just over a week, Cali started playing with Orly outside. Cali would lead Orly on a wild chase through the snow, around the raspberry bushes, between the cherry tree and the fence, through even deeper snow … and so on.

Then she invited Orly to play inside. They are very sweet together, wrestling and tugging toys.

When Orly is very tired and in bite-everything mode, she starts to nip at Cali’s neck and legs and tail, and I have to intervene. Orly gets a nap and Cali gets a break.

For THIS I Gave Up My Sofa?!

9-year-old Cali meets 10-week-old Orly. Both are golden retrievers.Cali cannot believe her run of bad luck.

First, some very nice people came in and … took away her sofa. The sofa that she loved to lie on so she could look out the windows in comfort, getting up only to bark at people who had the nerve to walk by with a dog.

Her mom keeps talking about a new sofa but Cali is beginning to think that her mom is imagining things. There’s no sofa. No, but there is a big puppy pen. Not a good sign.
A living room with an ex pen, a chair, and no sofaThen her mom left town for almost three weeks! Imagine! OK, well, she got to stay home with a great dog sitter, and Deni showed up after a couple of weeks, but still.

Finally, Cali’s mom came home. Just when things might be looking up, the whole family got into the car and drove all day in very cold weather. They went to a house with a bunch of golden retrievers, including this small puppy. So annoying.

Finally, they went to a hotel and got to sleep.


The next morning guess what happened?!! They went back to that house and took the puppy. That’s right. That little puppy got into the car, into a spiffy little red crate, and settled in as if she belonged there.

Golden Cali, wearing a purple sweater, stares at the ex pen and its occupant, 10-week-old golden puppy Orly
Why does Orly get the best bedroom?

(Which she did.)

They all drove home and the puppy took up residence in the living room.

Cali is not delighted to have a new little sister. She does not like the new living room decor. No sofa; instead, a huge ex-pen with a puppy in it. And the puppy has all the best toys.

Even so, she’s starting to come around. She spends a lot of time watching Orly, the puppy. And has even sort of maybe considered playing with her, just a little, but only when she thinks that no one is watching.

Welcome a New Thinking Dog!

10-week-old Orly, a golden retriever, eats from an orange treat toyCali has a new little sister, and the Thinking Dog Blog has a new co-star. Orly joined the family on December 29 at almost 10 weeks of age.

Golden puppy Orly works on a blue treat toyShe’s one smart cookie, and benefited from an amazingly thorough early-puppyhood enrichment program in her birth home: She is a master of stairs already, is comfortable in a crate, and asks to go out when she needs to go.

She’s a connoisseur of treat toys and enjoys slow-feeder “puzzle” bowls, snuffle mats, and a wide variety of stuffable and fillable treat toys. (A good little Montana girl, she seems partial to her West Paw Toppl and TuxOrly, a 10-week-old golden retriever, plays in the snow toys.) She also loves to play tug, chew on just about anything (we call her Baby Shark), and run around in the snow. She enjoys watching TV but has not (yet) asked for a tablet or smartphone. She’s well on her way to mastering the magic sit, and has fabulous recall.

She’s a little analytical and often sits and watches a new thing, seemingly pondering what it is or why it’s there. She notices everything but does not seem to fear anything.

Orly examines a sloth toy in her exercise penKoala has been sweet and tolerant with Orly; as of Day 2, Cali is still pretending that she’s not here.

Orly is Cali’s niece, the daughter of brother Sailor.

We’re working on some basic training and we’ll start puppy class in a few weeks.

Orly will undoubtedly take some of the pressure off of Cali by providing fodder for many blog posts in the coming months. She’s also the reason that the Thinking Dog may publish less frequently … I’m hoping to post at least every two weeks and will try for every Monday as usual.

Happy new year everyone!

Pandemic Puppies Are Hitting Adolescence

Young Cali, a golden retriever, runs through a tunnel holding a tennis ball
Cali, now 8, took ages to grow up!

Wow, all those pandemic puppies people got last spring are now hitting that wonderful adolescent stage. You know, where they have boundless energy, no sense, and no memory of anything you’ve taught them?

How long does that stage last? Jana’s was about 5 months. Cali’s? closer to 2 years … Then one day something clicks into place and you have a wonderful adult dog. If you’ve done your homework, that is.

If you didn’t get training when your dog was a puppy, you might find yourself on a long waiting list now. Even if you’ve raised puppies before and know how essential early socialization and training are, the pandemic poses significant problems.

Last spring, many dog training classes were shut down. How do you go to puppy kindergarten on Zoom? Sure, you can learn to teach the pup to sit on cue and wait before bolting out the door by following online lessons, but — like human kindergartners — pups need to play with others to learn how to be a nice dog.

They also need to interact with people. All kinds of people — all ages, ethnicities, genders, sizes, shapes — and wearing all kinds of clothing, walking with different gaits (or using wheelchairs or walkers) … it’s nearly impossible to get that kind of exposure while socially distancing.

The extended work-from-home time was beneficial to housetraining and developing a close bond with a new puppy, but is that dog able to handle being left home alone?

Get creative!

It’s possible to find workarounds to some of these issues. A trainer referenced in a recent NYT article suggests hanging out in a park with a long leash (15-20 feet) and asking willing passers-by to greet your puppy.

As far as encouraging independence, crate training is always a good idea — then ensuring that the pup spends some time alone each day, crated with a fabulous treat. I like stuffed Kongs, but there are dozens of great treat toys that you can safely leave with your dog in a crate. Avoid anything that looks like the dog could chew off a small part (whether a toy or an edible, like dental chews or rawhide) and swallow it. Smear or stuff it with something irresistible. Peanut butter works for a lot of dogs.

Do this while you are at home, but also start leaving the dog home alone for short periods. Take a no-dog walk, run errands, whatever is possible where you live. Gradually extend the dog’s alone time, and don’t make a huge fuss when you return or release the dog from the crate. It shouldn’t be a big deal to leave the dog or reunite. Just part of an ordinary daily routine.

If your dog has become a wild child and you don’t know what to do, look for online training — try the APDT’s trainer search. Even if you can only get an online class or a phone consultation, professional advice might be the best way to resolve any behavioral issues before they get deeply entrenched. Please choose only a positive trainer, though, and be prepared to put in some time and effort. Changing behavior takes time (whether it’s the dog’s or the human’s — or both!).

Puppy Potty Problems

Tiny Cali grew up to be a master people-trainer

A couple of people have asked me recently about issues housebreaking puppies.

Teaching puppies to potty outside is deceptively easy — and unbelievably challenging.

It’s easy because they want to be clean and have strong instincts to keep their home, especially their sleeping area, clean and because they develop associations and habits relatively quickly.

And challenging because it requires constant vigilance and consistent, immediate responses. We humans tend to be terrible at both of those things.

It’s easy …

Here’s the easy part. Figure out where you want your dog to “go” and think about a reasonable daily routine. Recognize that if you are dealing with a puppy, you will need to go out far more often than when you have a housebroken adult dog. Even adolescent puppies can hold on for more reasonable periods. But young puppies, up to 4 or 5 months, need to go often.

Puppies generally need the chance to pee when they wake up in the morning or after a nap, when they have been playing, and pretty soon after eating and drinking.

… And challenging

And here’s where we tend to mess up. Soon is immediate, especially for little puppies. When the puppy wakes up from deep sleep, soon = instantly. After a shorter nap or play session, you might have a couple of minutes. While we dink around getting our shoes and our jacket and hunting for the flashlight, we’re likely to find that we need to pivot to cleanup mode.

So tip #1: If you have a little puppy, get slip-on shoes and keep them with your flashlight, leash, jacket, whatever right by the door. When the puppy wakes or stops playing, grab her and run out.

The other way we mess up is thinking about the pup in too-human terms. When we wake up, for example, we need to go … but it’s not so immediate. So we don’t rush. Or we expect the dog to give some kind of very clear, obvious signal of her distress.

The puppy is probably trying very hard to communicate with you, but you’re missing it. It might be a particular look, or walking to the door (if you are very lucky!), or a tiny little whimper or whine. It can be very subtle. The problem is, if you miss it enough times, the dog might stop trying.

Tip #2: Pay very close attention to your puppy the first few days you are together and learn how she communicates with you. Respond immediately; by meeting her needs and learning to understand her, you will start building deep trust and understanding.

The other way we think as humans and not as dogs is, when we take our pups out, we launch straight into fun. We play with them or head out on a walk filled with amazing smells. The pup might pee before or during or might not. She might get distracted by the fun. Chances are, though, she’ll need to go again after. By which time we’ve come inside, removed our shoes and jacket … only to turn around and find that we now need to clean the floor.

Tip #3: Commence playing only after the pup has peed. Then play your hearts out. Then give the pup a few minutes to pee again before going in. I don’t know where they store it, but puppies never seem to truly empty the tank.

Tip #4: A great idea is coming up with a verbal cue — time to go, or get busy, or go potty. It doesn’t matter what cue you use, as long as you use the same one all the time. Say those words as soon as you go outside, and then wait. Don’t interact with the puppy at all. If you need, to, say the cue again.

When the pup goes, throw a party — praise, maybe a treat, whatever. Mark the occasion. Then play or walk (another reward). Use the cue again before going in.

In time (surprisingly little time, actually), the dog will associate the cue with doing her business and might often actually just go when you ask her to. How cool is that?

A warning

So, if I’m so smart about all of this pee business, how did Cali train me to play ball with her before she goes?

Good question. I blame long, gorgeous Montana summer evenings. We’d go for the last walk in the evening and, I think to delay going in, she’d take forever to pee. And I never caught on, since I was also enjoying being outside. Once she got her very own yard, she would suggest ball games to delay having to go in. And again, I never caught on. She’s a very good people trainer. So a final tip: Pay attention to what your dog is doing and don’t get sucked into the same trap!

What’s OK When Puppies Play?

I’ve accompanied friends with young puppies to puppy play sessions several times over the past few months. (Playing with puppies and then sending them home with someone else is the best …)

Puppies often play in ways that seem rough and scary to their doting parents. Those other puppies might hurt Precious, the new owners fret.

Relax. Puppies are pretty sturdy. They also tend to be quite vocal if another puppy is too rough.

Great puppy play includes:

  • Lots of chasing. One puppy leads off and others chase her. Within a few seconds, the pair or group change direction and another puppy is in front. When to worry? If only one puppy is chased (same for adult dogs) or if the chasee seems to want to end the chase and the other dogs ignore the signals. If too many puppies or dogs are chasing a single dog and seem intently focused on that dog. Good chase is fluid, not targeted at a single puppy.
  • Lots of wrestling, mouthing, and tugging. Yes, puppies have nasty, needle-sharp teeth. All the more reason to let them practice biting — and inhibiting their bite — on each other, not on our arms and hands. They let each other know what hurts and when to back off. This is one of the primary reasons why new puppy owners should insist that their puppy stay with his litter until he’s 8 weeks old. Sure, they’re weaned and yeah, the breeder might be pressuring you to take your puppy home. But those few weeks (with teeth) of play with littermates are essential to teaching initial social skills and bite inhibition. Single puppies and those taken from their litters at 6 or 7 weeks, which is way too common, are at a serious disadvantage.
  • Frequent pauses where puppies check in with their people, get a drink, pee, rest under a bench … puppies who know when they need a break are smart and self-protective. Puppy owners might need to enforce breaks, though, because the little ones don’t always make good choices. Call your puppy over, give him a treat, and send him back to re-engage.

What crosses a line?

  • Watch puppies for signs of stress. A puppy that is scratching a lot is stressed, as is one who’s constantly seeking to avoid other dogs, clings to a person’s legs, hides under a bench for long periods of time.
  • Yelps signal distress. Some puppies do vocalize while happily playing, but a distressed-sounding yelp is a call for human intervention. De-escalate the play, let the yelping puppy catch her breath, then let them all play again. Puppies usually recover quickly from a minor scrape and don’t hold grudges.
  • Too much mounting and other pushy behavior. This is a fine line. Puppies do wrestle and climb on each other, and that’s fine. Puppies of vastly different sizes can play happily together. But if a puppy seems interested only in humping or pinning other puppies and is doing it over and over, or constantly seeks out a specific puppy to mount, that puppy needs a break. And possibly larger, older playmates who will teach and enforce more acceptable play rules.

Puppy play groups are a great way for puppies to work on their social skills while working off a fraction of that endless puppy energy. Don’t avoid them because you are worried that your delicate baby might get hurt — but do pay attention and intervene when needed. In fact, that guidance serves beyond puppyhood and in any situation where dogs of any age are playing together.

A New Puppy!

No, I am not getting a new puppy! A good friend is getting one though, so I have been thinking about puppy prep lately. In no particular order, here are some things we talked about.


We visited my favorite local training school, Sit Happens, so that my friend could meet her puppy-to-be’s kindergarten teacher. We watched several young puppies play in carefully supervised small groups, and talked about drop-in playtime, classes, and, in good time, a more formal manners class. Little Maisy will be very well educated. Best of all, I get to go to puppy class, and I don’t have to get up in the middle of the night with the puppy!


We selected a good quality, reasonably priced food for Maisy, making sure that it was from a brand on the Whole Dog Journal’s approved list. They do all the homework of choosing quality foods, checking on the manufacturing processes, where ingredients are sourced, and whether the foods are nutritionally sound and include high-quality, identified, meat-based proteins.


I suggested getting lots of chew toys, especially ones that can hide treats. Maisy will spend a few hours at home each morning and afternoon while her family is off at work or school. She’ll need to develop a hobby, preferably one that doesn’t entail thousands of dollars in repairs and remodels to the house. So. Chew toys.

A play pen

Little Cali, age 10 weeks, shares Jana's dog bed
Cali appreciated the comfort of her big sister’s dog bed from her first day home. She never chewed on or ripped it. Not all puppies are as wise.

I lent the doting parents an ex-pen to create a safe space for Maisy when she can’t be supervised. I suggested taping heavy-duty plastic to the floor, as my friends did when our girls (Cali and Dora) were young. Whenever the humans are away or distracted, I advised putting Maisy in her safe space with some chew toys. Of course, when they are home, they will spend lots of time playing with her and cuddling her outside the pen. And rushing her outside!

Maisy also has a large crate to sleep in, complete with cozy crate pad. And a plush bed for when she’s mature enough to sleep on it, not destroy it. Cali was ready for a big-girl bed pretty quickly, and Maisy might well show similar good sense and appreciation for creature comforts.


I advised getting the puppy used to having her teeth brushed right away. It’s best to start slowly, letting her lick some tasty chicken-flavored dog toothpaste off the brush (or a finger), then gently starting to brush. Cali loved brushing her teeth as a puppy. Now she’s reluctantly willing to do it, for a cookie.

Same goes for nail trims and brushing. Start right away but introduce it all very gradually and use lots of treats. It’s so much easier to trim a dog’s nails when she’s used to having it done. Cali doesn’t love it, but I can Dremel her nails in a few minutes with minimal fuss. I know several people who cannot touch their dogs’ nails and whose vets or groomers need at least two helpers. It shouldn’t be that traumatic. If you are fortunate enough to get your dog as a youngster, take advantage of the opportunity to introduce grooming early and painlessly.


I advised the new puppy parents to rest up, since Maisy will demand a lot of time and energy during the first days as she settles in — and even more throughout her adolescence. I was exhausted for several weeks after getting Cali, and she was a pretty easy puppy.

It’s worth it though; Maisy will no doubt be a great addition to the family.

Too Young to Leave Mom

Tiny Cali immediately tried to take over big sister Jana’s bed

Last week, I fumed about puppy mill “rescue”; this week, I’ll take on  unethical breeders.

In the months I have been in Montana, I have been lucky enough to meet and play with many puppies. I’ve noticed a distressing pattern, though. Several of these puppies — all different breeds or mixes — were really tiny. Upon asking how old they were, I have heard, over and over, that the proud new owners got their puppies at six weeks of age. Six weeks!

That’s too young. Some states even have laws prohibiting the sale of puppies under a minimum age, usually seven or eight weeks. Not Montana, sadly.

Puppies are generally weaned by five or six weeks; their sharp little teeth are coming in, and Mom wants nothing to do with them. They’re also getting to be rambunctious; they move around well and their eyes and ears are fully open. Both the canine mom and the human family may be ready for the puppies to move on to their permanent homes. But that doesn’t mean that the puppies are ready to leave the litter.

Weeks six, seven, and eight are important weeks in their social development. They play and wrestle with their littermates. Those new, sharp teeth are tested out on siblings’ ears and limbs. Puppies learn that biting too hard elicits a sharp yelp and a temporary shunning. Puppies who persist in biting their siblings find themselves left out of puppy games.

Singleton puppies and those taken from their litters too soon do not learn these important lessons. They may never develop the appropriate interdog social skills that they need to be “easy” dogs — dogs who can go to parks and people’s houses and be walked without the humans having to fear encountering another dog.

Another consequence is that the puppies don’t learn bite inhibition from their siblings. Who is around for them to try out those new needle-like teeth on? The human family, of course. Many of these besotted new puppy owners sport dozens of scabs and scrapes on their arms and legs. Ouch. They’ll need to put a lot of painful effort into teaching the puppy not to mouth or nip.

If there’s an older dog in the home, that dog might be able to teach the pup some manners, but he’s not likely to be as effective as a whole litter of biting siblings. For one thing, the puppy won’t experience being bitten and gnawed on, as she would in her litter. For another, adult dogs tend to give young puppies a lot of license before disciplining them. The puppy could develop some bad habits before the older dog (or human) loses patience. The rough-and-tumble of a litter is the best place to get that initial bite inhibition training.

I know many people who will only get a dog from a breeder because they believe that all shelter dogs have “issues.” My response to them is that any dog can have issues, and that many breeders cause those issues, either through poor breeding or poor handling in the pups’ early life. Breeders who send home puppies at six weeks are at the top of that list.

A law shouldn’t be necessary to keep puppies with their mom until at least seven, but preferably eight to nine weeks of age. A responsible, caring, knowledgeable breeder would do that — would insist on it. Sure, there might be cases where a lone puppy or a few puppies wind up in a shelter; in those cases, taking them home might be better than leaving them in a crowded, noisy environment. But when you’re getting a puppy from a breeder or family? Steer clear of the person who presses you to pick up your puppy too early. There are likely other ways in which that person is not acting in the puppies’ best interests.

In case you are wondering, Cali came home at eight and a half weeks. My friends and I picked her up, along with her sister Dora, and flew home with them. Our biggest worry leading up to that date was whether our pudgy little furballs would still fit into their travel kennels when we got to the home of their wonderful, wonderful breeders.



The Best Big Sister!


I was worried about Jana’s reaction to the new puppy. She’s never been fond of puppies, to understate the situation. Usually, she pretends any nearby puppies simply don’t exist. If a puppy gets in her face, she usually raises a lip in warning and puts considerable distance between herself and the little brat. So, I wasn’t at all convinced that bringing a puppy into our one-room temporary home was a great idea.

Then Cali arrived with all her sunny friendliness and puppy charm.

Within a few days, the first miracle: I caught them tugging on a toy, Cali’s comical puppy growls mimicking Jana’s play growl. The next day, the truly impossible happened: Jana forgot her elder-dog, anti-puppy dignity and actually invited Cali to play. It’s happened a number of times since then. In fact, when I start playing with them, they quickly re-engineer the game — to exclude me. I am beginning to feel like the waitress / doorperson / spa attendant. See them in action here: Cali and Jana playing.

Jana eagerly shows Cali what to do in training sessions and is teaching her all kinds of ways to have fun — roll in the grass! Eat mulch! Ignore Mom when she calls you to come inside! Drive Mom crazy by asking to go out every 5 minutes! Especially when it’s raining!

Cali watches worshipfully and carefully mimics everything Jana does. She so badly wants to be a big girl just like Jana.

There are lines though. Carrying the paper up the long, long driveway is Jana’s job, and Cali really needs to learn that. In fact, after wrestling the paper away from Cali this morning, Jana showed her outstanding work ethic: As we rounded the corner of the house, she spied a cat! She lunged, barked, lunged again, barked some more — all without letting go of the paper. I suspect she was putting on a show partly for Cali’s benefit.

There are minor areas of tension. Certain special bones are Jana’s. Only Jana’s. When Jana is choosing a toy, Cali had better stay away from the toy box, no matter how long it takes Jana to choose. And if Jana changes her mind and wants the toy Cali has, well, she is the big sister. Like most big sisters, Jana is often bossy and never lets Cali forget who is in charge.

At the same time, she’s amazingly patient with Cali’s boundless energy and need to play, bounce, cavort, run, jump, spin, and generally demand attention. Cali has gone too far only once, and she got a slightly nipped ear to impress upon her the foolishness of disregarding Jana’s warnings. Mostly, though, they are polite and appropriate with each other, they wrestle and tug and play happily together, and they share their toys far more amicably than most human siblings.

They are both girlie girls; their favorite toys are all pink. Small, purselike toys are popular, as is the bright pink pig that Jana selected on her first trip to a PetSmart several years ago, and a huge (pink) owl. They both like to play tug (with the pink rope), and both are highly food motivated. In some ways, though, they couldn’t be more different. Jana is very analytical and extremely selective about which people (or dogs) she’ll allow into her personal space. Cuddle? Hands off, please. Cali, on the other hand, has no concept of a “stranger.” Each human and dog on the earth, she is certain, was placed here to be her best friend — especially you. In fact, she just can’t wait to meet you. And you, you, and you. When she does, she’ll smother you with kisses, her tail madly wagging the whole time.

Come to think of it, how could Jana resist? How could anyone?

Introducing Cali!

on janas bed

Our family is growing! Meet Cali, the newest member of the Hogle and Elliott household. Except, of course, she’s in California with me and Jana now, not home in Florida with Deni.

Single puppy parenthood is a challenge! Cali is wonderful about asking to go out when she needs to … but that means that I have to be quick to respond, whatever the time of day — or night. How do parents survive months of this? After just over a week, Cali is waking up pretty consistently around 1 a.m. and again between 4 and 5 a.m. The second time, I just let her cuddle with me until it is time to get up at 5:15 or 5:30.

Yes, mornings begin early with a puppy. She’s full of energy, happily greeting her toy box like a long-lost friend, bouncing from one end of the small studio to the other, trying to get Jana to play, turning somersaults, and generally being a puppy. All while I am trying to find the ON button for the coffee pot.

By the time dogs go out, dogs come in and wipe their feet, I build a fire in the wood stove and take a shower, dogs have breakfast, we all walk down to fetch the paper (Jana does all the work here), I have breakfast, we play, puppy goes out again … well, I am ready to go back to bed. And it is only about 7 a.m.

The good thing about puppies is, they take a lot of naps. But, many of these are power naps, which means that, after 20 short minutes, Cali is wide awake, full of energy, and eager to play. I, having tried to get 3 hours’ worth of work done during those 20 minutes as well as pay some attention to Jana, am less refreshed and eager to play. Sometimes, she’s lucky she’s so cute.

She uses her cuteness on others as well. At Bergin U, where I am teaching this semester, Cali has charmed the students, staff, and volunteers. She is easily the most popular girl on campus. The benefit for me is that, the more people who come play with her, the more naps she takes! In fact, she’s taking one now, having been thoroughly worn out by a dedicated volunteer who drove in from more than a half-hour away — to play with Cali!

I was a little worried about her the first few days she was home. She didn’t show much interest in eating and even left food in her bowl! She has adjusted quickly, though, learning the attraction of food-filled Kong toys, solving her Brainy Bone puzzle (to get at the hidden Charlee Bear), and begging for meals and training treats.

Speaking of training, this puppy is clearly a genius, well on her way to learning several cues and tricks. I think she’s a lefty; she shakes with her left paw about 3 times out of 4. She’s got a nice “sit” and is catching on to “down,” “turn,” and a few others. She’ll even pick up a wooden dumbbell, but is not quite reliable about giving it back to me yet.

Most miraculous of all, Cali seems to be on her way to charming big sister Jana. She is definitely the annoying little sister sometimes — clamoring for attention, bugging Jana to play, appropriating Jana’s bed and toys. But, yesterday morning, something momentous occurred. Jana asked Cali to play. The two romped and tugged with her for a few minutes before Jana remembered her older-dog dignity and her opposition to puppies and went back to bed. The puppy tires her out too!