Certified Pet Dog Trainer  
Beaverton, Hillsboro, Portland Kirsten Nielsen, Ph.D.
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Lessons learned from Willow

How can you tell if a puppy is sitting or squatting to pee (without waiting for the flood)?

If she's sitting, her tail relaxes and lies on the floor; if she's peeing, she holds her tail up off the ground to keep it dry.

If I'm getting frustrated with Willow's behavior, you can bet she's frustrated too!

Praising any good behavior (or lack of bad), made us both feel better and improved her behavior.

Green strawberries are delicious according to Willow, they give puppies diarrhea. Fencing off the strawberry patch, taking her out on a leash and adding canned pumpkin to her food helped us survive strawberry season.

Given the above, I thought Willow would like lettuce but she spat it out the first couple of times I gave it to her. Now she loves all veggies.

Puppies don't walk - they scamper.

For a few weeks our daily walk consisted of going to the mailbox (about 25 feet), only going forward when the leash was loose. Eventually Willow got the hang of walking beside me without pulling and we were able to venture further afield. Meanwhile, I used the retractable leash in the backyard to give her some more freedom to run around without constantly fighting the leash.





My Willow Diary

April 17, 2007

I've been looking for a new best friend since losing Teek. After networking with every Malamute officianado in the Northwest, I finally found a likely litter that was born on February 15, 2007. Both parents are conformation champions and the breeder had the appropriate health checks (OFA for hips and elbows, CERF for cataracts) done.


Here they are at four weeks old.




I went to visit the puppies and "mom" when they were just over five weeks old and on that basis decided to go for it! The breeder will release them to their new homes at age nine weeks - perfect timing to balance socialization and housebreaking concerns. 


They're not always sleeping. Here's what they look like with their eyes open.




The breeder is letting me have first pick of the available females (3) if I can get there before the Ohio buyer has to leave on Friday. After some schedule juggling (thanks everyone!), I'll get to spend a couple hours evaluating them Thursday pm, then sleep on the decision before taking her home on Friday morning. I've decided on the name Willow in honor of the town in Alaska where the official start of the Iditarod took place the year I went to help a friend that was racing. Besides, when the puppies were born they reminded me of the pussy willow buds that were just emerging.

I've been busy getting ready for my new "baby." Fortunately I already have most of the stuff I need: crate, baby gate, bowls, toys, leash, collars, a ShopVac and enzymatic cleaner for accidents. I just have to get some good quality puppy food. The breeder is sending me home with enough so I can make a gradual transition from what she's feeding.

Just two more days!!!

April 27, 2007

I've had Willow for a week now and although I'm a little tired and distracted, I'm having a ball. She has been great about chewing only on her toys (not me) and not jumping. I have to credit the breeder and her family for that. The housebreaking is still a work in progress, which is no doubt my fault because I'm having so much fun playing with her that I'm not using the crate as much as I should.

Fortunately she adapted quickly to the crate. She slept the whole drive home. The first night when I put her in the crate while we ate dinner, she howled and screamed for about 10 minutes before falling asleep. While she was still asleep I opened the crate door so it wasn't an issue when she woke up. She came out for a drink and then took herself right back in for another nap! Since then it's just been the occasional, brief complaint when I put her in the crate during the day. At bedtime she can't wait to get in there. I've also been feeding her in her crate and she's learning to go in on command.

Other milestones: Willow has learned to sit when she comes in the door so I can wipe her feet. She is mostly going to the outside "potty area" to do her business. She is sleeping through the night to about 7am (phew!). I think giving her a small snack before bed helped adjust her schedule from the 5am wake-up. Although we haven't gone for a "walk" yet, she's starting to figure out how the leash works - pulling makes me stop and not budge until she puts slack in the leash. She's already been to a couple of my classes and even got to play a little during puppy recess. Tomorrow I'm looking forward to taking her to her first Puppy Romp.

May 16, 2007

Puppies certainly keep you busy! I didn't mean to let so much time pass before another entry. Willow is still wonderful, but growing like a weed (or possibly even faster - quite a feat this time of year!). We went to the vet for her DHPP booster and she weighed in at 23.3 lbs. at age 12 weeks. Almost 10 lbs. heavier than when I got her!  Note to self: next time take a toy so she doesn't get so bored while I chat with the vet.

Willow's coat is just starting to change color as the guard hairs grow in. That may be why she's a little itchy. Eventually she'll probably be a dark gray and white, but I'm still enjoying that soft, fluffy undercoat for now.

Willow has had lots of great adventures the last couple weeks. She's accompanied me to classes and Puppy Romp, so now she's an old pro at traveling, playing with other dogs, and watching me work with other dogs. On Sunday she met Schroeder & Linus, the Leonbergers that belong to the owners of Schroeder's Den. She was appropriately cautious having nearly 300 lbs. of dogs investigate her, but soon her tail was up and she was ready to follow the big boys around the room.

We also had some great studio photos taken by All That Jazz Photography last week. You can see some of the darker gray fur beginning to show on her leg.

Other milestones: We took our first real walk yesterday. She was a little overwhelmed, so she mostly trotted along right behind me. Glad to know I'm still the leader! Willow also is doing great with basic commands - "sit" and "down" are a piece of cake, "wait" and "give" are pretty good at this point.

She still needs more work on the housebreaking. Yesterday I was just thinking I could put away the carpet cleaner, when "oops!" Most of the time she'll go to the back door and whine to go out, but sometimes she apparently forgets that she can hold it long enough to get there. This is really where spending time in the crate can be helpful so I need to be sure to use the crate to establish a more reasonable schedule.

Willow also discovered the joys of chewing through her toys this week, so I have to supervise the stuffed toys more carefully now. Unfortunately while I was wrapping a Mother's Day gift, she also discovered that dirty laundry is also fun to chew on. :-( Another owner error! I know better than to leave her unsupervised. I thought she was asleep in her crate, but I should have shut the door while I was rushing around. It's a good thing she's so cute!

July 5, 2007

Today Willow is 5 months old and about 45 pounds. She is now too big for me to hold on the scale and read the dial. She has lost all of her incisors (front baby teeth), and one molar. Some of the adult molars have already grown in too. Her coat has really changed. The new guard hairs are black tipped so her back is very dark now. Still waiting to see if her tail will curl over her back more. So far, it hasn't done more than go straight up.

I'm sorry that it's been such a long time since my last update. Time flies when Willow's around! Here are some of the highlights from the last 6 weeks.

Meeting more big dogs:

    Some of my malamute friends, Cosmo & Celeste, came to visit from Washington. Willow was very respectful of them - unless there was a stick worth stealing. Interestingly, ever since their visit her fur tends to go up when she meets new dogs even though she can't wait to meet them.

Willow also spent a weekend with another of my best friends, Onyx the doberman. I was slightly apprehensive because Onyx is so bouncy (she only has two speeds: full stop and warp-speed). Fortunately, my friend Carol, Onyx's owner, is very capable and by the time I picked up Willow, Onyx was happily letting Willow run circles around her. Carol also taught Willow how to negotiate the very steep stairs in her house.

Unfortunately a play date with some Labradoodle friends didn't go quite so well. As soon as we arrived Willow grabbed one of their (many) toys and scooted behind a chair with it. As I walked over to her, I heard a gulp (literally!) and the toy was gone. YIKES! Knowing that once the toy left her stomach it was likely to get lodged in her intestines (fatal unless removed surgically), we made a mad dash to the pharmacy for some hydrogen peroxide which I administered in the parking lot. Thankfully, a couple minutes later up came the toy, followed by her breakfast and she was as right as rain. Whew! I was also lucky that there was a vet across the street just in case.

Shortly after that, I had another minor scare when Willow started sneezing up some lovely snot. I immediately thought kennel cough and notified everyone that she'd been around. But as it turns out, it only affected one nostril and cleared up the next day (before the vet appointment) so it was probably just something up her nose.

Last night was Willow's first fourth of July. After her initial concern earlier in the week about the loud noises in the evening, she stopped paying any attention to the fireworks (thanks to treats). So I figured she'd be fine watching my brother set off some fountains in his driveway. Wrong! Apparently hearing noise from inside the house is not at all the same as watching sparks fly. Willow totally panicked. So I spent the rest of the evening sitting inside with her and watching out the window, dispensing treats. This worked great with my brother's dog, but Willow was still a little unsure as I carried her out to the car to go home. At least once we got home she paid no attention to the loud booms all around the house!

September 9, 2007

Willow and I have been keeping busy the last couple months. She's probably almost 60 pounds now and looking like almost like an adult Malamute, although a little scrawny yet. At nearly seven months old, Willow has graduated from Puppy Romp (sigh) but passed her evaluation at Schroeder's Den so now she can attend daycare and play all day with the big dogs.

Before going on vacation I started taking Willow to some competition obedience classes with my friend and mentor, Cindy Leung. Willow did amazingly well, even though I was quite out of practice and uncoordinated since it's been about six years since I last trained for competition. This will be clearly be good for both of us, even if I don't get the chance to actually compete with Willow.

Aside from growing larger, Willow has also been testing me lately - pulling on the leash, ignoring commands. I'm trying to make sure that she never gets away with it and it's a good reminder that although she has been a great puppy, I can't trust her yet. After a couple very frustrating walks with more about-faces (for pulling) than walking forward, I am now using a Gentle Leader on Willow. Now she's used to it and not doing headstands in the middle of the street, but it's helps a lot to discourage pulling and also gives me more control when we meet someone.

The rest of the summer revolved around my family's annual hiking expedition. I tried to prepare Willow (and me!) by getting her in good physical condition with gradually longer walks. I also wanted to make sure she could handle some of the new experiences coming her way...

There are quite a few horses and pack mules in the area we go, so I wanted to make sure she wouldn't get spooked meeting them on the trail. Fortunately I have a friend with a horse who took us along to the stables. You'd never know Willow's breeder had a horse! The horses were very curious about Willow, but she didn't like the look or sound of them at all. She was much happier when she could hide under my chair while my friend rode. Afterwards Willow let the horse come up to investigate (as long as she was under the chair). She was still a little unsure at the beginning of our hiking trip, but by the end she decided they were safe enough that she didn't try to run away from them.

The other challenge I anticipated was having to wade across a large stream where a bridge was out. So I took Willow for her first swimming lesson at the Tualatin River. I should have called her Wussy Willow. She started off growling and barking at a little riffle in the water. She wouldn't go in the water at all, even with me standing in a shallow section. Then all of a sudden, "ka-splash" and Willow had jumped in next to me. I gave her all kinds of praise and petting. After a while it seemed odd that she was still just standing there, so I moved a few steps away from her expecting her to follow. Nope. Then I tried going back on shore and calling her. She didn't move. Turns out she scared herself stiff! So I went back out and half lifted her and walked her a couple steps toward shore. She still wouldn't move. Finally I half carried her the rest of the way. It took another half hour and the rest of my lunch to coax her into getting her toes wet in about two inches of water. So much for the bold and confident Malamute! This could make for a very long day of hiking.

Back at home, I got a wading pool and taught Willow to get in it and fish out raspberries. A few days later we went for a practice hike and lo and behold Willow marched right into Mirror Lake. She didn't swim, but it was progress enough to give us both confidence about crossing the streams in our future.

I'm happy to report she did just fine on our big trip, crossing streams without batting an eye - although she'd use stepping stones if they were available. What a character. The only time she actually swam was when she slid off a rock at the edge a lake, but even that didn't seem to traumatize her too much.

We eventually wore her out enough that she stopped trying to eat every stick, pinecone, piece of moss, etc., in the forest. During our ten day trip, she logged nearly 60 miles of hiking and about 7000' elevation gain. Not bad for a 6-month-old! Next year she'll be old enough for her own packs!

October 23, 2007

No big adventures lately, but Willow still enjoys playing with her friends from Puppy Romp whenever she gets the chance. As she gets bigger and more confident, I find that I have to discourage her from getting too possessive. She seems to have gotten over guarding the water bowl since every time she tried I'd take her away from it.

Willow and her friend Kya take a brief rest from wrestling.






Recently when an adult canine friend was visiting for a few days, I noticed Willow was snuggling up to me more than usual. As it turned out she was starting to guard me from the other dog. I praised Willow for letting the other dog come close enough that I could pet them both, which seemed to help. I don't entirely trust her though, especially since Malamutes tend to be pretty pushy and prone to fighting.

November 28, 2007

At nine months of age, Willow is still growing, but more slowly now. She continues to make lots of new friends and apparently is very popular at daycare (with the males anyway).

Recently Willow had great fun meeting and playing with a 3-month-old Labradoodle puppy, Mocha.

I think she particularly liked the role of big sister!

Lately we've been having some housebreaking woes. Actually Willow is fine at home, but has had problems visiting other peoples' homes. I think part of the problem is that she is still very routine-driven at this point and prefers to "potty" on grass. Plus, when we're away from home, there are so many exciting things to explore outside that she loses track of what she's supposed to be doing. Lastly, although she asks to go out at home (yipping at the back door), she hasn't figured out to apply that to different locations. By being extra vigilant inside and extra patient outside (not much fun standing around in the cold rain), hopefully she'll improve. Meanwhile I'll have to take the stain remover along when we go visiting!

After Thanksgiving, we took Willow up to Mt. Hood for her first taste of snow. She was a little perplexed by the cold white stuff on the ground, but after watching the older and wiser Siberian Husky, Kobi, prance around in it Willow decided it was great fun.

Here I am doing the retractable leash dance (to prevent a tangle). Somehow we all stayed upright.

With some trepidation, I decided to try harnessing Willow up for a trial skijoring run. She hasn't had any real experience working in a harness, except for a little practice in the backyard that ended badly. (She ran in the house while still pulling a gallon jug of water. The jug slammed into the wall and cracked, leaking water as Willow ran all through the house trying to escape this thing following her. At least it was only water, but I guess her "WAIT" command isn't totally reliable yet!) Fortunately, she was a natural. With a few minor detours we had a great run down the trail about 1/2 a mile.

December, 2007

After Willow's prowess at pulling me on skis, I was all excited to try hooking her up to the scooter that I was just given. Unfortunately, it didn't translate very well. I ended up walking and Willow not only wouldn't pull, she dawdled along at such a slow pace she was barely walking! So I decided to wait to do more harness work until I got together with my sledding friends after Christmas.

December 26, Willow weighed 70 lbs.

We s pent a long weekend hanging out with all our dog sledding friends in Easton, WA and skijored every day - regardless of the weather.







As long as Willow had Kobi beside her or another dog(s) in front she pulled like a champion. In fact she was so into it that I didn't have to work at all for at least the first mile, even on the hills! I also got to witness Willow's first howl, inspired by the 50 or so other howling huskies and malamutes as we left for dinner.


Willow and Kobi make a good team - she provided the muscle and Kobi (age 12) provided the inspiration.


February 2008

Willow had her first birthday on the 15th and weighed in at 73.4 lbs.

She looked very grown up on her first trip to the beach. Although the waves coming toward her were a little intimidating, she had a blast.

Amazingly, Willow didn't try to eat EVERYTHING she found. Could she be developing a discriminating palate? Nah!




Erik taught Willow to dig (only in the sand!) and we enjoyed watching that instinct kick in. She wasn't very focused, but kept moving the sand around happily for almost an hour. We were quite intrigued by her periodically digging with both front paws simultaneously, which required some impressive coordination.




April 2008

75.3 lbs. at 14 months old.

I'm happy to report that the housebreaking issues away from home appear solved. Making sure that I take her to a grassy spot makes a big difference, plus she's pretty phenomenal about holding it when necessary. Interestingly, she still doesn't ask to go out except at my house.

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