You Are My Sunshine...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Get Out From Under My Feet"

“Get Out From Under My Feet”

I used to hate it when my father, who was big, would say this if he stepped on me or my sister, when we were small. I'd think, “Hey! You stepped on me. I'm the one with the ouch. Why am I getting yelled at?” Of course one did learn to stay out from under his feet. In fairness, he had very big feet and couldn't always be expected to keep them clear of small children frantically running to and fro. Also in fairness, I must add that if I actually cried my father would quickly scoop me up in a hug. Sometimes it was worth it to get in his way, manufacture a few tears, and reap the reward of his undivided attention and affection!

Benny's leash training continues apace; I walk him now many times a day with Nico and it's all about “no face” (overtures to play always begin with face sniffing and licking), “no play” (two Malamutes playing on leash on the trail is a bad idea! – picture it and no further words are required I'm sure), and “get out from under my feet!” Benny is indeed, a puppy. At five months he now stands almost as tall as my other two boys: he is as long-legged, big-footed and uncoordinated as any pre-adolescent child whose brain is struggling in vain to keep up with grow spurts that happen between lunch and dinner. The good thing is that as the days go on, Benny is no longer making every effort to grab my boots, or to position himself between my legs or directly in the place where my foot is about to come down. Now when it happens, when he ends up directly under my boots such that we do indeed all fall down, it is largely due to a failure to pay attention, or rather, his attention being drawn to something monumentally significant like stalking a butterfly, rather than where he is going and what, including my feet, might be between him and the object of his pursuit.

The boys are doing great. Full integration in the play yard is still a goal, not an achievement, but every day I watch Nico develop in his understanding of what we want him to do with the puppy and the restraint he needs to exercise in order to continue to enjoy having his company in the yard. Benny is doing his part; he is very like Thunder in his ability to ignore Nico when he tires of being “it,” or when Nico refuses to share the toy after Benny has run all over kingdom come, or, at least, Kingdom Play Yard in pursuit of it.

Benny has also learned to sit when I go in the kennel to collect him, while Nico is waits outside. Of course, he sits right in front of the inward-swinging gate, which can be awkward. His favorite trick is to hit the gate with his paw just as I come in through it, so I get clocked in the head every time. Meanwhile Nico has managed to hold his down--stay while I get the puppy out of the kennel, even when the puppy's “sit” looks more like “let's dance”, and even when the puppy jumps on me, as I crash to the ground suffering yet another concussion from the swinging gate. Most of all, Nico is learning to hold his position when Benny gets in his face. I see no sign that Nico might transfer any frustration at this discipline to Benny when given the opportunity for free play. When they are set loose in the yard together Nico grabs a toy and seems genuinely interested in nothing other than getting Benny, who has lately become fixated on digging to China in one particular place, to play chase with him.

Benny is a great puppy; Nico is remarkable dog. I think it is time I began to tell Nico's story from the beginning at least as far as I know it. It is not an atypical story: that a dog can one minute be unwanted, neglected and slotted for “disposal”, and the next become someone's loved and adored companion is what Rescue is all about. But every dog is special, each and every Rescue drama has its own moments of tension and hours of anguish, days, months and years of joy and happiness. The character of the resolution is always unique for it depends on the personalities of the dog and the people who come to love him. So I will begin. What follows, what I will try to write about for the next few days, is Nico's story, the story of what it took too bring him home.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Picture's Worth...


A picture is worth, well, something! We took these today. With three dogs and only four hands we couldn't manage  great photography, but we certainly did have fun and a plethora of  memorable moments!

On the trail: Rick, Thunder and Benny

And after the trail, a little refreshment!

Good Stuff eh Benny?

Too much wine Rick, He's just a puppy!

No. I'm not staying the night Benny. But I'll keep you company for a while!

Benny embraces the Post-Modernist critique!

Or, maybe not!  Talk about shredding an argument!

Another,  BETTER bone to pick!

I am beautiful! And bigger than yesterday!

Benny and Nico Run Together!

Thunder and Benny in the Meadow

Nico: I'm thinking I'll try-out for the part of Elsa the Lion in Born Free. Do I have a chance?

Benny chases Nico: A great moment, if not great photography!
And an invitation to play... I think!      

Lupine Lullaby

Lupine Lullaby

Last night Benny spent his third complete night in the kennel without protest. Well, mostly anyway. He has also learned that peeing in the house is not on. He doesn't quite go to the door to tell us he has to go out, but we have learned to read a certain restlessness as the key sign. He will even lick our faces if we are sleeping, so as to get us up. So in my book, all of that makes Benny, after two weeks of living here, a real “indoor-outdoor dog.”

“Indoor-outdoor” is important to us. Our dogs spend social time with us in the house every day and sleep inside in summer when it's hot. But we also hope that before the winter is out, Benny will be happy sharing the big yard with Nico both night and day. Nico does not like being in the house once we start putting on fires and warming things up. Thunder has been his steady outside companion since he came here. But for Thunder, the time to be an outside-in-all-weather Malamute is passing. Malamutes are pack dogs and though Nico does not complain when left out alone, we don't feel good leaving him isolated. Indeed, the whole business of acquiring and training our young Benny is driven by the need to provide Nico with an outdoor companion.

Well, sort of. I'm really not lying: Nico does need someone who can stay outside with him and the discussion of getting another dog in this house began with that imperative. However I must admit that when I totally by accident found myself at the Nordiclight Kennel web site, gazing at a whole pack of stunning, working Malamutes and then saw the two shiny black four month old puppies portrayed on the page, “Available Now,” I was hopelessly and irrevocably smitten. Breeder Nathalie Roy's web site offers both photographs and video of her Malamutes working, training, and playing together. When I went to her kennel, I saw that her dogs are not only absolutely gorgeous, wiry muscled and fit, but they are also trained to work and highly socialized with each other. As for the young boys, “Available:” be still my heart!

Enter Benny, Nordiclight's Arnavik Benny: that's his official CKC name. We call him “Benny Coldfoot” because he looks so much like his father, Nordiclight's Arctic Coldfoot. Daddy Coldfoot is one impressive looking Malamute! Benny shares his markings and if we raise him up right with exercise appropriate to his age and good food there's no reason not to expect him to make his dad, and his breeder, proud.
Nordiclight's Arctic Coldfoot

Nordiclight's Iska: Benny's Mom!

But for the moment, our Benny is still just a pup. He just turned five months old and has proven to be irresistibly affectionate, gentle natured and very very smart. Another breeder I spoke with asked me where he came from. I told her “Nordiclight” and she sighed: “Ah. One of Nathalie's dogs. He'll have something between his ears for sure. She works her dogs. It's a passion.” While Benny, born in April, would have been far too young to have been in harness yet, it is clear from his behavior that he has spent all of his short life around older dogs who have a job and know how to do it.

What is it that makes a “working” Malamute different? I think it has to do with being very sure about their place, on the line in front of the sled, in the play yard and in the eye of their trainer/handler. Nathalie's dogs, I learned, work together and play together. There is an amazing video on her web site showing the whole pack, intact breeding stock included, running loose together in the yard without any signs of aggression or fear. Every dog in a working team has a purpose and a place; it seems to me this leaves the dogs feeling very much at ease with each other and themselves.
Iska: a working mom!

Coldfoot: also full time sled dog, but today he's taking the truck.

I described both Nico and Thunder to Nathalie, and told her how we hoped Nico would learn to get along with the new puppy. Nathalie chose Benny as the right dog for our pack. “He loves to run with the big boys,” she said, “but he is very calm and easy going.”

Benny is a totally laid-back puppy who showed immediately that he was indeed big-Mal savvy. His greetings to Thunder were entirely appropriate for a young dog approaching a senior. He did not fuss the old boy nor insist on attention. He simply walked by, holding himself most deferentially, and waited for Thunder to decide to pay attention to him. In Nico he spotted a playmate, but at the same time he sees that Nico is a big dog. When he feels overwhelmed, he comes to us for support but does not cower or cringe. He shows no fear, only due deference and the sense to find a way out when he thinks he might be in over his head.

Benny is remarkably like Thunder in his ways. We find this fascinating because as far as we know there is no breed line connection. Yet he walks like Thunder and talks like Thunder. By this I mean that he shows the same calm, take-stock-before-you-act attitude in new situations, especially those involving other dogs, that Thunder does. It really is quite a joy to see Benny and Thunder go down the trail together with my husband every morning.

First of all, the visuals are stunning. Benny and Thunder share the colouring known as seal and white, although as he has aged Thunder's black has more grey in it. Benny's black is the colour of midnight, rippling with the last vestiges of puppy fat and burgeoning muscle development. Rick wears a red plaid bushman's jacket; everyone who lives north of Highway Seven owns one. The trees are turning colour: orange, russet gold, brown, yellow and of course the red glory of the sugar maple.

But the most delightful thing of all is watching Benny try to cavort and play while Thunder motors forward, always forward, like the working sled dog he once was. What I think Thunder and Benny have in common is the sense of self that comes with knowing your job and knowing your place. When Thunder came to us that was part of his trained sled -dog package. With Benny his composure and good sense is probably genetic, but also due to his having been raised with working dogs like Thunder, who are sure of their value as part of a team.

Of course, Benny is a puppy, and sometime goes a little nuts. Thunder then has to tell him to cut it out. Because the leashes are involved this can get a bit dicey. One day, coming up behind them on the trail, I saw Rick in great frustration and confusion throw the leashes down, and then curse because all was tangled. When I caught up to him I told him, “Its alright to just let go if they get messed up. The dogs aren't going anywhere. Thunder's too old, Benny's too young.” Rick gave me a look that said, “And I'm too tired!”

Benny is wearing us all out, which as a young dog he should do. He gets lots of training and exercise for we are committed to raising him as a pack dog with Nico and Thunder, and as a pulling Malamute. Already he is learning to run beside Nico without getting in his face, and staying on the trail when we hit a certain speed. Although Thunder no longer runs or pulls, he is Benny's primary mentor in these lessons. Even while just walking on leash Thunder shows both Nico and Benny how a working dog does it. With such a great teacher, and all the right genes we're pretty sure Benny can't help but earn his identity as a working-dog, as “Benny Coldfoot,” not only in his looks but also in his ways.

Nico will do his part too for despite his fear, he early on learned to pull me on skis. He is a most sensitive trail dog, and no doubt Benny will learn his gee and haw from Nico, as well as whoa and of course, best of all: “Hike home for supper!”

For now though, Benny is still a puppy. Our job is to make him feel comfortable, secure and happy in his new home. That he is quiet and content in his kennel tells us that he knows this is a good place, and that he will be cherished and cared for even when he is not being held and cuddled. He knows now he can rely on Thunder to be steady, even if he's not much fun for play. And he knows that even when Thunder is in the house at night, he is not alone outside: Nico is standing watch in the yard.

Indeed: the second night Benny stayed out, he must have gotten lonely at around 3 in the morning. For we heard a few plaintive cries and some yips from the kennel. I thought about going out to him, but then we heard something else: a low throated moan that turned into a full voiced howl. Just one. Just enough to silence the little guy's complaint. Rick and I looked out the bedroom window: It was Nico. He'd he'd sung the little boy to sleep, then laid down at the end of the yard closest to the kennel.

A sense of place, a job you know how to do, a friend to share your days in harness and out, someone to watch your back when you sleep: this is the life we hope Nico and Benny will come to enjoy together. With Thunder watching over and telling us how to do it, I'm thinking its going to be a pretty good time for us all.

To see the Nordiclight dogs  in action go to: 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Benny and Nico: Together, Almost!

Benny and Nico: Together, Almost!

Yesterday we put Benny in the yard with Nico again. It was our third attempt and each time is is with less trepidation, but we must continue to be careful. Benny is four months old, still covered by his puppy license when it comes to interacting with adult dogs. Nico, at four years of age, gets along well with Thunder his constant buddy for the last three years. So, why all the fuss about Benny and Nico running loose together?

The answer is this: Nico has not been able to hang out with anybody but Thunder since the first year he came to our home. Initially he had playmates, but things went bad and eventually we had to stop the visits.

The reason for the problems were not obvious to me. Malamutes are not always the best playmates: Most people who keep Malamutes know they can be overbearing and even dog-aggressive. The man who built my dog sled said his father-in-law used to run Malamutes but quit. “They'd be going along just fine, even winning a race, and then about 100 feet short of the finish line they'd stop to have a fight. All the other teams would run by, and then his dogs would just stop fighting and trot on home for supper.”

Well, it's a good story. But is it true that Malamutes like to fight? I don't think so. Nobody really likes to fight. Malamutes are the original work hard, play hard dogs and their play is often fearsome, even to other dogs, dogs who are not similar in build, strength and attitude. But pack order is essential to their ability to work as a team and hard aggressive play is part of establishing that order. It doesn't mean the dogs are trying to kill each other. Our new puppy, Benny came from a working kennel where the Malamutes run in twelve dog teams. At the end of the day they play freely together without incident in a fenced yard. Dog-dog aggression in Malamutes is real, but so is the capacity to live together as do Nico and Thunder, and as do the pack-running wolves who are their immediate ancestors.

So what was up with Nico that his friends stopped wanting to come to his parties? The only thing I knew for sure was that his previous playmates were all smaller dogs. Maybe we just needed more Malamute in the equation. When it came time to look for a playmate and companion for Nico I figured it had best be a female Malamute of comparable age and size who knew her own mind. Failing that, and it did indeed prove to be an impossible order to fill, maybe a puppy might work out: a pup young enough to not seek status until Nico had come to see him as part of his own pack, a Malamute who would grow big enough to go shoulder to shoulder with Nico in any kind of contest, playful or otherwise.

That is why it was Benny, a four and half month old pup of not inconsequential size but easy going temperament from a kennel of working, highly socialized Malamutes, who arrived at our house late in the evening Sept. 9. It was dark when we came in: Nico and Thunder were in the yard. They didn't see much of Benny until the next morning. Then, predictably, when the puppy went out to do his business in the daylight, Nico hit the wire, screaming intruder alert, calling all troops to protect the realm.

Well, that was a good start. Fortunately, Thunder, being older and wiser, although showing interest was far less agitated than Nico. Later in the day we separated the two big dogs and introduced Benny to Thunder. It was, to say the least and the most, anticlimactic in every way.

Thunder ignored Benny, and Benny ignored Thunder, after a fashion. He walked by giving the old boy that sidelong puppy glance that says, “I'm not here, but I could be here if you'd like to play, but that's o.k. if you don't, I'm just a puppy.” Thunder said, “I'm too old to play, bugger off.” But then a minute or so later said, “Oh alright, I'll sniff your tummy. There. Does that make you feel better?” Since then Thunder gets along with Benny just like any other grumpy but kindly old grandfather compelled to babysit a young grandchild, pretending not to notice when the little guy imitates his manners and expressions.

You could say when Thunder met Benny nothing really happened. But I think maybe a great deal happened. In watching the two of them together I learned from Thunder what I had to do with Nico to facilitate integration between the two younger dogs. This is important to us: the whole point of bringing another dog into this household was to allow Thunder to retire as Nico's full time yard companion and running mate. Thunder has reached that venerable age where a cozy bed beside a hot fire in the winter looks a lot more inviting than a snowbank. Meanwhile Nico still goes absolutely bonkers if he has to stay inside once the snow starts to fall. Nico needs someone to spend the winter outside with: it was clear to me from the get-go that integration between Nico and Benny was going to be hard work. Now here was Thunder, whose winter by the fire was on the line, telling me exactly what that work should entail.
Thunder: Older, wiser, just plain smart!

The bottom line, Thunder was saying, is this: Nico has to be able to ignore Benny before you can even think about introductions. So we began: Benny had to be in the kennel; key to this strategy was teaching him the kennel was a nice place to be. That meant spending hours sitting in there with him so he could learn it was but an extension of our living room, one where he could chew on whatever he wanted, pee if he felt like peeing, and even take a dump if necessary, although like most dogs, even pups, he prefered to take that a little further away from home.

Nico watched from the yard. Rick and I took turns sitting in the kennel with Benny. We'd done that with Nico too when he first came. Since Nico was too afraid to come into the house, sitting in his kennel with him was the only way to get him to become comfortable with our presence. With Benny the objective was totally the opposite. Each time we came into his kennel, he gleefully crawled into our arms for a cuddle. What we had teach him was that the kennel was as likely a place to get love and attention as the house. It only took a day: soon he was content to spend an hour or two at a time alone in the kennel, thinking his own thoughts. Bit by bit he began staying happily on his own there, even at night. In between kennel sessions, we played, we learned puppy manners in the house, we wandered across the lawn and round the meadow. We watched Nico, and Nico watched Benny.

The kennel is only about forty feet from the fenced-in yard. With this much activity going on around the puppy, it didn't take long for Nico to stop barking every time Benny came and went. Of course, every time we put Benny in the kennel or the house, I ran back out to give treats and hugs and kisses to my big boys in the yard. Thunder thought that was a pretty good deal; he could care less about kisses but he loves his treats. And soon Nico started coming around.

Then Nico came out of the yard and went on the leash. We started from across the field. When we got close enough to the kennel that Benny could draw Nico's attention, we worked Puppy Obedience Class, Level One: Watch me. Sit. Watch me. Heel. Down. Nico does these exercises to perfection in his sleep when it's just me and him, but now there was a distraction. If I ever wondered why I did basic obedience exercises until they were mind numbingly automatic, now I knew! Nico's focus on me was a direct gauge of his ability to control his interest in the puppy. Soon he was doing the exercises as we approached the kennel. Before long walking by the puppy not five feet away was a positive exercise filled with rewards; no straining on the leash, no lunging.

I have to say that I was not surprised. Nico has never let me down. He came to us terrified of all things human. He was so nervous that all he could do was run and hide, grab and swallow, cower as if he thought he could make himself small enough to disappear. And yet, from the day I began to work with him, he found some small part of courage in his soul that dared him to trust one more time. I remember watching him shake with fear and yet he would let me touch him and hook up the leash. Then I would open the kennel gate, he would bolt, and we would run away together. That was where it all began three years ago. Eventually, he got so he could hear my voice and listen to what I was asking of him. Soon he proved himself the most sensitive of Malamutes, highly responsive and totally trainable. Now we were going through the same process again, learning to listen when instinct said do anything but. But this time my boy was more than ready to believe in me.

By the end of Benny's third day here Nico was able to approach within three feet of the kennel, perform the exercises and walk by as if no one was there. Day four was a test for us all: I let Nico get really close to the kennel. I wanted to see if a play-gesture was forthcoming from either dog. Benny came over to say hello, Nico bent low, then growled deep.

I preface what comes next by saying that I never use physical correction on my dogs. Malamutes are way too smart to take that kind of crap from a human for long, and more to the point, I feel it is unfair to take advantage of our capacity to restrain any creature to force them to accept physical punishment. However, in our relationships with our animal companions there are times when instinct is the best guide. This was one of them: Nico growled at my puppy. I flipped him and said, “He's mine. The puppy is mine.”

Nico knows what “mine” means. We began working on this when his confidence was such that he'd come way past being afraid to eat in front of us to growling if you came near him at his food. I didn't challenge him on that. He was already a fully grown Malamute and in his formative experience had known hunger and the importance of defending his meal. Instead I started feeding him from my lap. I'd learned early on that Nico would not bite me so long as he wasn't taken by surprise. So I began by sitting down with the food in my lap and covering it with my hand. “It's mine,” I'd say. “It's mine until I give it to you.”

I cannot tell you how much respect and admiration I have for my Nico: He learned very quickly to wait until I'd said “O.k. Take it. Its yours.” Now I can rub my face in his fur while he eats and risk nothing more than a very disgusting face wash when he's done chowing down on his raw meat and bones. I can place cookies on his feet and within a centimeter of his nose. He will drool, but not take anything until I say its O.k. The other day I was trying to fix his leash with his big meaty bone in my hand. I accidentally dropped the bone, Nico caught it. I held out my hand and said, “That's mine until I give it to you.” He gave it back.

I put Nico back in the yard with Thunder after I told him the puppy was mine. I heard Nico say to Thunder, “That was a little over the top don't you think?” Thunder, being old and wise, just said, “Women and puppies: Watch yourself.”

After that Nico wouldn't even look at Benny. For the next few days he gave the kennel wide berth and would not even be enticed to come close. Eventually I started sitting down just outside the kennel, calling Nico in, obedience class style. He came, because he knew it was desired, and eventually understood that he could come close to the pup, even greet him, so long as he was “nice.”

Now it was time: Thunder said “Nico has to ignore the puppy.” Nico was ignoring the puppy. Even better, instead of angry barking, when the puppy was out, Nico was showing positive interest, throwing his own toys in the air, running around the fenced yard like a puppy himself. Thunder said, “That's a bonus. Stay in control of your dog.”

Right Thunder. I understand. We're getting ahead of ourselves. First we have to practice control.Thunder regretted his advice: it meant his gentle senior walks with Rick, my husband, now became training walks with Benny, while I took Nico, first behind and then out front. I tell Rick that he's doing a great job leash training Benny but that's just to make him feel good. Its really Thunder's gig: Benny acts the fool, Thunder just keeps going forward, working-Malamute style. Benny crosses the line, Thunder corrects him before any human would even notice what was happening. Benny learns it in one go. I have to say it: I just love my Malamutes!

So it went, and then it was time: nine days after Benny arrived here, we felt we were ready for the play yard.  Did I say Nico never lets me down? Doing new things with Nico is always a lot of work, but he repays every effort and more. Learning to treat Benny right in the play yard proved no exception. Nico came to us a most damaged dog, and yet every step of the way has proven that his heart is Malamute through and through. He is tough, strong, capable in every way of handling himself if need be. Yet show him that he doesn't have to do anything extreme and you'd rather he didn't, and he won't. Show him clearly what you want him to do, and he'll do it, unless its something really stupid. (Malamutes are too smart to do stupid things; that's how they've survived human contact generation after generation!) Show him that you truly will take care of his back, and he gives you everything he's got and then finds a little more to get the job done. That's a Malamute!

Nico and Benny have been enjoying short play sessions in the yard now for four days. Day 1 I figured something out: I had never really understood exactly what happened that Nico's playmates became fearful of him. On all but one occasion there was never any obvious signs of aggression or status posturing. Nico has never been an overbearing, take-charge-of-everything-on-four-feet-and-maybe-two-if-you-can-get-away-with-it kind of Mal. But when I watched him running with Benny that first day I understood: Nico is one tough, fast, smart Malamute. He simply out runs, overpowers and eventually exhausts his playmates. Then they stop running for fun and start running in fear. It never got further than that with the other dogs. I always took them out when it was clear they were no longer happy being there with him. But we know what can happen in the Malamute psyche when an animal shows fear.

When Nico and Benny met in the yard the first time I did not release Nico until I saw the requisite play bow from both dogs and a happy reaction from Benny to Nico's overtures. Watching them run I called out “easy” and saw Nico jump over Benny, instead of on him. When they began to play fight I said “play nice” and saw Nico side step so as to fall down himself, instead of knocking Benny on his back. When the running started to get frantic, I called them in, and though this was the hardest thing for Nico, he made his way closer to me and I was able to stop the play. This is what we've been doing every since: praising Nico when we see him hold back, shutting down the game when we see that Benny is getting tired and Nico over excited. We end each session resting quietly together, learning to relax, the dogs side by each.

Today we introduced a rope toy into the game. Nico runs with it. Benny chases him for it and Nico slows down so he can catch him. So far so good. Nico doesn't exactly let Benny take the toy, but he doesn't guard it from him either. When its time for a drink, they take turns and when Benny forgot his manners and got too close to Nico at the pail, Nico looked to me to back Benny off, rather than growling at the pup. All good signs, but it will still be a good long while before we leave Benny in the yard alone with Nico. Benny has to get bigger, and Nico more nonchalant about his new friend's possibilities. Meanwhile, we can see that Nico understands what is required, and is trying very hard to get it right. That is just about as good as it gets, and we love him for it.

Nico has proven himself time and again to be the real thing: a dog who given the least bit of chance is ready and willing to put his whole heart into getting it right and making it work. We cannot forget that he had a bad start, and cannot help but be impressed when he shows us once again that the Malamute spirit is indomitable and generous. He's lying here beside me now as I finish off this tribute to his character. Like any other Malamute I've ever known, he doesn't really care what happened in the past, and even less about what I might say about him. What's on his mind? That squirrel with a death wish is back, just outside the screen door. I better get a leash on my dog!

Benny and Nico: one day they will run together in harness as well as freely in the yard. Of this I am now confident. And when they do, Nico's rehabilitation as a Malamute, born and bred to be part of a team, part of a family, and of course and always a huge part of someone's heart, (lucky me: it's mine!) will be complete.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Act II

Act II: Not the Beginning
I am sitting on my front porch watching my puppy, Benny, chew on a toy.  Last night was the first time he spent the entire night, all alone, in the kennel. Well, almost alone: his kennel is less than forty feet from the fenced enclosure where Thunder and Nico, our other two Malamutes sleep. So at three in the morning when they decided they wanted to comfort the puppy with a rousing rendition of “We are Malamutes," little Benny had no trouble at all taking comfort from the lullaby, and even joining in!

Benny, who told me he'd like to be known by his full name “Benny Coldfoot” is now five months old. He has been here since Sept.12, so it's almost two weeks, since he left his brother and the big dogs he's spent his life with to date. Because we knew he'd be lonely, Benny spent his first few nights here sleeping inside the house, with me nearby. He was in the crate, out of the crate, outside, and woops - diarrhea! Oh no! Talk about a crash course in house training, as in the dog trains the human in the signs that mean "I need to go out. NOW!"

Unless you have been in personal correspondence with me for at least the last two years you will likely feel like you are coming in the middle of Act II. That is because you are.  So if you wonder why I am writing about a puppy named "Benny" when this blog is running under the title "Nico's Story"  I refer you to  "The Sun  Also Rises" and the other pages under "Back Story" for the "Nico Blog Prequel."  That is where I intend to tell the stories that led to the introduction of a puppy in our home at this time. Similarly, the updates that follow regarding the Nico- Benny integration project will also make a lot more sense to you if you know a little bit about where Nico came from, and his life here with us to date.

Meanwhile, back to the puppy! The second night the poor little guy  was so sick -- had to go out just about every hour.  He finally moved to a place near to the door to sleep.  My husband, at around 2 a.m., came downstairs from our comfortable bed where he had been sleeping alone to find me curled up on the floor with the puppy. I told him that Benny was doing what you do when you are so sick you just want to lie down on the bathroom floor because you can't bear to get up and down from the bed anymore to do what has to be done on time. Smart puppy -- he got out the door on time every time.  Of course come morning, I was most painfully reminded that I am too old to be sleeping on cement floors!

That was a week ago. Puppy is coming along fine now.  Day by day he has learned to enjoy his outdoor kennel as a place where he can relax from the demands of learning house manners, leash manners, and all the things we ask of puppies destined to be companion dogs. It's all pretty usual puppy stuff and if I were to itemize the details it would serve only to remind us all of what puppy training is all about.

My next entry however will be about play time in the yard. You might think "ho hum, also how normal." But play time for Benny involves training Nico not to run him into the the ground and what we are doing in the yard would likely not be considered “normal” by anybody, except, perhaps of course, other people who adopt and raise and live with Malamutes! Stay tuned! Nico's Story is far from predicable, easy or dull.  If you have Malamutes – you know and expect something different. And if you don't have Malamutes, well, hang on for the ride!