I said “NO”

Watching my young puppies play with their mother is simply fascinating. We humans think of language mainly as a verbal communication, so we tend to oversimplify dog language as barking, whining and probably because it is so obvious, tail wagging. But if you watch closely you will start noticing so many subtle cues that are easily missed through casual observation. In this particular instance, Holly was playing with a toy, which she strategically placed close to the puppies enticing them into the game. A tug-of-war soon ensued with the puppies clamping on, and pulling harder and harder. Acting bold and cocky they even started growling as they tugged.

All of a sudden Holly stopped tugging, gave them a stern stare and moved her muzzled forward ever so slightly; the pups stopped in their tracks, let go of the toy and immediately adopted submissive postures: belly up, ears plastered back and avoiding eye contact. This whole act probably took less than 3 seconds!

This game was repeated on and on and Holly’s reaction was exactly the same every single time: subtle, fast and right to the point. I could not help but think how ineffective we humans are when trying to correct out dogs. We nag, nag, nag, beg, plead, nag a little more, beg, plead, threaten, yell…Our dogs resort to ignoring us or even escalate the negative behavior in response to our agitation. Wouldn’t it be great if we could also be subtle, fast and right to the point?

Did you know that allowing your puppy to play with his mother and siblings is very important because it allows him to practice “doggie language“? This is something we quite clearly are not capable of doing well. It will make your puppy more accepting of our clumsy human corrections and will also allow him to interact safely with other dogs. Puppies should not be separated from their dam and litter-mates until they are 7 weeks old. By practicing this dog-dog communication your puppy will be able to distinguish threatening or playful signals that the other dogs display. Once you pick your puppy and bring him home allow him to play regularly in small groups of other well socialized dogs. This is a key part of his early training and proper socializing.


Brian has a home! I should say a perfect home.
My colleague Marge Spence, who teaches up in Alachua, referred the most wonderful family I could every hope for. After a bad experience with a previous puppy that they ended having to return to the breeder, they were looking for a little guy or gal with a nice mellow temperament. Their perfect Labrador girl “Amber” had died at 12 1/2 years from a brain tumor and finally the “right” time had come for a new puppy to enter their lives.
I prefer to sell my puppies to previous lab owners, because the chewing phase in Labradors can be quite a challenge, to put it mildly. So when I know that they know what they are getting into I feel better. The cherry on the sundae is the fact that both mom and dad jog and they will eventually take Brian on their runs. A tired dog is a GOOD dog!

The couple came first to check Brian out as they did not want their 10-year old to have to go through another disappointment if this was not “the” puppy. One week later, they came with their son. Since they wanted to keep it a surprise, he was told that they were going out to lunch and then that they were taking a different route back home. Content in the back seat, probably playing a video game, he all of a sudden found himself in our yard with a playful Labrador puppy running to meet him.

While emailing back an forth I learned that the son’s birthday had not been long ago. I offered to put a bow on Brian as a surprise gift for the boy. Upon further thought, I realized that a bow would quickly be shredded to pieces by a curious 14 week old puppy, so I got him a “Gator” bandanna instead. I also knew the dad worked at the University of Florida and I assumed they must be Gator fans. My hunch was confirmed when they all got out of the car and the THREE of them are wearing Gator T-Shirts!

The look on this little boy’s face when he was told that this was HIS puppy is one of those special moments when you get divine reassurance that you are doing what your are meant to do here on this earth.
So it was a literally a bittersweet moment when I placed Brian in the arms of his new family. But I know that he has a mission: to bring them joy, companionship and happiness, what dogs are meant to do here on this earth.
Brian is now named Zeus. He has big shoes to fill, but I have no doubt in my mind that he will do a fantastic job. I also know that “Amber ” who is waiting at the Rainbow Bridge is smiling down on him.

My Dog is a Genius

Last week I heard a presentation by Michael Gelb who wrote the book “How to think Like Leonardo da Vinci. Seven Steps to Genius Every Day”. It was so much fun and inspiring that I was instantly drawn to read his book which my husband had bought many years ago and was sitting gathering dust in our bookcase!

Gelb writes that the potential of the human mind is so vast that we have just merely begun to understand it. We are all born geniuses and are capable of extraordinary accomplishments. The theory that we are born with a fixed intelligence measurable by the traditional IQ is obsolete. In fact recent research now indicates that we are endowed with seven intelligences: Logical- Mathematical, Verbal-Linguistic, Spatial-Mechanical, Musical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal-Social and Intrapersonal (Self Knowledge). It is also not true, that as we age our mental capabilities necessarily decline. Actually, our brain can improve with age because our neurons never stop making new complex connections throughout our lives.
Babies of all species, including human, start learning by imitation. But as we become adults, we can choose our teachers and role models, so he invites to choose “the best”.
So if you want to become a better golfer, study Tiger Woods, if you want to become a better leader study Abraham Lincoln, you get the idea. So by studying Leonardo we can cultivate and expand the genius in all of us.

Initially you think, well that is very encouraging, Mr Gelb, but have you noticed we are not living in the Renaissance era any more? But the modern twist that Gelb adds to the Seven “da Vinci Principles” are really inspiring. These are in Italian, the master’s language:
Curiosita: An insatiable curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning. This is our birth right of genius.
Dimostrazione: A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence and a willingness to learn from mistakes. Gelb also points out that for the modern Renaissance person this entails being an independent and original thinker because we live immersed in information overload. So think for yourself.
Sensazione: The continual refinement and sharpening of the senses.
Sfumato: which literally means “going up in smoke”; a willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty. In modern days: tap into and trust your intuition.
Arte/Scienza: Maintaining a balance between left and right brain.
Corporalita: cultivation of fitness, ambidexterity, grace. Nowadays it also includes a balance of body and mind, respecting your body, health and well-being.
Connessione: Recognizing and appreciating the interconnectedness of ALL things; We are all one.

So just like Gelb gives his research a modern twist, you guessed it. I could not help but give it a canine twist. This is why Leonardo Da Vinci ended up in a Blog about dogs!
But really, the more I read, the more I am convinced that our dogs ARE geniuses!

Let’s look at each principle:
Curiosita: Can you, move, eat, sleep, open a package or go to the bathroom without your dog watching closely? Do you get every inch of your body inspected when you come back from work? and God forbid you went somewhere where there was a dog AND you touch him. Does your dog analyze every particle of dirt attached to the soles of your shoes?
Demostrazione: Does your dog volunteer before anyone else in your family for any possible activity that you might think of? Let’s go for a ride, eat, go for a walk, go feed the horses, sit on the couch and watch a movie… You name it, he will experience it .
Sensazione: Your dog can hear a bread crumb fall on the rug and use his nose to find it even it fell into a shaggy rug!
Sfumato: Has your dog ever raised his hackles and growled at a person and you later found he was a “bad” person? Talk about intuition and trusting it, in spite of the fact that you are probably scolding him “Stop it, bad dog, Oh my, I don’t’ know what got into him, he is never like this….”
Arte/Scienza: Ok, I admit it, I had to think a little hard about this one, but this is just so if we think inside the box of art as in painting and science as in math. Dogs, have the ability to calculate the flight path of a Frisbee so they can catch it in mid air and I consider the nose prints in my car windows “artsy”. I also know they can count; try giving one of your dogs one treat and the other one two. Watching dogs run and play is poetry in motion and it brings as much joy and emotion to my heart as a beautiful work of art.
Corporalita: Dogs can expertly use their bodies to occupy the most space in bed while you lay cramped in a little side struggling not to fall off the edge. Dogs are naturally coordinated and graceful and if we fed them good food instead of crappy kibble they would be very fit and healthy; And if we exercised them enough we would BOTH be fit and healthy.
Connessione: Dog’s stand on four paws instead of two feet on this earth and therefore they are twice as “grounded” as we are. If we embraced life with the authenticity, joy and love that dogs do, we would really come to understand without any doubt that we indeed are all one.

How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci. Seven Steps to Genius Every Day by Michael J. Gelb.
Dell Publishing 1998

Induction to the Banana Ritual

My Husband Miguel loves to eat bananas and has gotten into the habit of sharing a banana with the dogs every time he eats one. So now the mere motion of pulling a banana off the bunch triggers a mad dash of the dog population to the kitchen. You would think he was dispensing fillet Mignon, but no it’s just bananas, but remember I have labs, they are always hungry and anything remotely edible tastes delicious to them. Although upon further thought I don’t think they really taste food, they merely inhale it.

Over the years, the ritual has evolved into the dogs having to sit and wait for their turn to get a piece of banana. Many of you might think this is because we are practicing what we preach: obedient dogs. But it is really a matter of self preservation. Being pounced on by a pack of excited labs demanding their share of the bounty is probably the closest to mutiny on a pirate ship that a human could nowadays experience! So the pieces are handed out by calling each dogs name, in order, starting with the older dog and moving down to the youngest. Until just a few months ago our pack consisted of 5 dogs and the banana ritual was calm and organized; but now with the addition of Tilly and the puppies, Miguel is seriously worried about the integrity of his fingers.

A side note on Tilly. When we first offered her a piece of banana she thought we were trying to poison her! She watched the labs eat like we watch those stupid TV shows where they make people eat slimy worms. After a few weeks, she finally accepted a piece and instantly spit it. It disappeared before it hit the ground. So now the labs know, “Tilly is going to spit it!” and as soon as Miguel says her name, all the dogs surround Tilly’s mouth. Talk about peer pressure! So she had no choice but to start chewing AND swallowing the banana with a look in her face like she is going to throw up.

Needless to say the puppies were THRILLED to be included in the banana ritual. The older dogs are not so happy. First, the puppies are learning to sit and now they all have to wait longer and second, the banana pieces have shrunk. Now instead of a pirate mutiny we have shark frenzy. Miguel wants to find out where they sell Kevlar gloves!

Maybe I am the Dogtomom?

If you have been following the math, you know that I am raising 3 x three months old Labrador retriever puppies: Oliver the “one” puppy I was supposed to keep from this litter, Amelia the one who sneaked into my heart and Brian whom I am supposed to be selling. Now add the rest of our pack: Andre, Sabrina, Ella, Holly and Morgan, plus our temporary addition Miss Matilda a.k.a. Tilly. Tilly belongs to my client, now good friend Susan. When she decided to join the Army we agreed Tilly would stay with us if Susan was sent somewhere were Tilly could not go. Well that time has come as Susan will be serving in Afghanistan. We are not too happy with that, but Tilly is very happy here and that it turn makes Susan happy. So we are all happy.

In case you have lost track, that makes 9 dogs.
Our max has been 10. Technically Tilly will go back to her mom and I will sell Brian, so that makes 7; so I have not panicked… yet! Do you see were I am going with the title of this post?

There are a few times during the day when I think we would be prime material for a reality show. One such moments are mealtimes. Those of you who own Labradors I am sure will understand. Those of you who have picky eaters will probably think I am exaggerating or even lying. It takes my older labs 10 seconds to eat. These puppies can eat AND lick their bowls clean in 5. So, if we do the math again, the whole “older pack” eats in 50 seconds! No I am not kidding. By the time I put the third food bowl down, dog number one has already finished. This dog also is convinced that this was the starters and is asking for his entree, second course, dessert and plus cafe! “What do you mean, that’s all?” And the dog’s that have had to endure an excruciating wait of 30 and 40 seconds respectively, are threatening to call the Humane Society and accuse me of dog abuse. The fifth dog to get his food bowl is Morgan the Sheltie. She eats last because she was the last one to join our pack. When Morgan came to us she ate like a dog, now she eats like a lab (time-wise) BUT has added the herding dog routine, which consists of running in and out of the kitchen while she barks. Thank God the Sheltie adopted the lab manners and not the other way around. Can you imagine the labs running around and barking while they wait for their food?
Tilly, who used to be a finicky eater and even skipped meals altogether, is now really eager about mealtimes. She does a little circling dance and hurries off to get in her crate. After only 1-1/2 months with us she now licks her bowl clean, but it takes her about 3 minutes. My labs are perplexed but they assure me that by the time Susan comes back she will be down to 20 seconds, which is still slow, but acceptable.

No, I have not forgotten to feed the puppies. The puppies have started to eat in their respective crates. We do that first because I don’t know if you recall that they eat in 5 seconds, so they would actually steal the older dogs’ food. Now puppies know it’s mealtime and get REALLY excited so it’s a mad dash to the garage where the crates are located and I get permutations of (this is also a math term meaning every possible combination of): two pups in the same crate, puppy refusing to go in the crate, puppy getting in and then out before I can close the door. I think you get the picture. Then I go back in the kitchen to retrieve their bowls and they all start barking like crazy: “Come back, feed us, we need to make up for the 63 days we did not get our own bowls in Holly’s womb!”

When the feeding frenzy is over I have another chore: collecting bowls to be washed. You might wonder why this is a chore. Since they did not get the additional courses they were expecting and they are still starving, every dog, has licked every bowl, possibly diminishing the stainless steel thickness a couple of microns and in the process has scattered the bowls to rooms adjacent to the kitchen.

In case you were wondering, I feed my dogs twice a day!
In case we do get picked for a TV show, let me add the WARNING: DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS AT HOME!

Capital “B”

I am still trying to find that “perfect” home for Oliver’s brother Brian, but his sister Amelia is quickly sneaking into my heart; and with every day that passes I find it highly unlikely that I will be able to sell her! My family is not surprised at all as they have given up on my dog craziness. I cannot help but see in her the mischievous qualities I just ADORE in my long lineage of black Bitches with capital “B”: Great great-great grandma “Gale”, Great grandma “Stormy”, Grandma “Clarissa” (Oops, she is yellow) and mother “Holly”. Honorary mention goes to Auntie “Sabrina” the mischievous Queen!

I now believe that at least in Labradors, just like there are genes for color, and tail and ear set, there other special genes. Let me explain…
There is one gene she inherited from great-great-great grandma Gale that determines whether you will ever be able to clip your dogs nails without the assistance of ten other people. I discovered Amelia had it when she was just 10 weeks old. Never mind the fact that I have been clipping these puppies nails since they were 3 days old.
Another regulates the force with which a dog will hurl his whole body towards you, so that you may notice she wants something. Amelia has it.
The -push through furniture, other dogs and anything else that may lay in it’s path, to get to be petted first gene- Amelia has it.
The pretend you want to lick my ear and then bite it with those super sharp puppy teeth gene, yep, she has that on too!
As well as the -sneak out the door without you noticing- gene, so that you can then spend 10 minutes calling “Amelia, Amelia, has anyone seen Amelia?” while you secretly fear for the integrity of your beloved possessions!

So for the sake of continuity, this Blog will still be called “See Oliver Grow” with the addendum “and See Amelia Run” and raise havoc in the Scannone-Merida family!

Bone Bliss

Most of us do not think of bones as a “Live Food”. I myself admit that the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of giving Oliver a bone is: “Great, he will be entertained for quite a while. I can let my guard down, no worries about chewed shoes, furniture or computer cables!”
But since I was writing an article on bones for “In the Field” magazine, I decided to read again the chapter on bones of Dr. Ian Billinghurst book: Give your Dog a Bone.

It turns out that bones are living tissue and a complex source of an amazing variety of nutrients. They contain calcium, phosphorus and trace minerals in the perfect balance to be completely absorbable by your dog.
Fresh raw bones contain all the essential amino acids in adequate amounts with the exception of methionine, this makes them an excellent source of protein too.
They also contain fat rich in fat soluble vitamins A, D and E. These vitamins are key enhancers of the immune system. Chicken bones have a very high levels of essential Fatty Acids. So there you go bones are the perfect food!

You might also not be aware of the fact that all those Glucosamine supplements that you pay top dollars for are derived from bones! By feeding those large knuclebones that still have pieces of meat, cartilage and tendons, you are providing Glucosamine straight from the source. Plus the whole range of co-factors that are not yet to be recognized and therefore not present in commercial Glucosamine supplements.

If any of you have had to take a puppy to the vet to have some baby teeth removed, I am sorry to tell you that regular gnawing of raw bones would have done the job. So bones play a very important role in proper jaw development and provide excellent exercise as puppies use almost every muscle in the body to tear and chew the meat attached to bones. Once Oliver’s teething (a.k.a. destructive chewing) phase is over, I will keep giving him bones regularly to keep his teeth clean.

Right now I am using bones to keep Oliver’s big mouth entertained when I am trying to crate train him! I don’t’ recall ever having such a LOUD puppy. His mom, Holly, was the last puppy I raised and that was 4 1/2 years ago. Maybe that’s it, if we did not forget we would not keep another puppy. I need earplugs!

Top photo: The tiny bit of bone on the right is what is left of what started as the huge bone on the left after several hours of blissful chewing done by my older dogs!

Three Firsts!

Last Sunday we went to the beach. We really like Crescent Beach on the East Coast, it is about a 2 hour drive from where we live. It welcomes on-leash dogs and is a short walk from the parking to the beach, most of it through a boardwalk, which makes it relatively easy to lug all the stuff we usually carry (chairs, cooler, umbrella).

So we took Oliver and his mom Holly as she loves the water and would be a good “role model” for him. It was his First car ride, First time on leash and First beach outing! and I was truly amazed at how well he did.

This beach outing is part of Oliver’s socializing. It is very important that I expose him to a lot of places, things, noises, people and other dogs for him to grow as a confident and well adapted dog.
The ideal socializing period for a puppy is from 2 to 6 moths old and you know what? Time flies so I need to act fast because after this window of opportunity, socializing, though not impossible, will be much harder and I will really have to work very hard to help him overcome any issue he might have. So if life were perfect I should have taken the time to do each step individually; but the alternative would have been to not take him at all. I think that when it comes to socializing, “the more the merrier”, so off we went on our “Three firsts” adventure.

Probably because there was so much other stuff to sniff and look at, he did not even notice he had a collar and a leash, watching his mom play retrieve in the ocean gave him a lot of confidence as he waddled, a little worried into that water that rolled back and forth and smelled funny. We were very lucky that the ocean was pretty calm that day, so we were able to carry him to the point where the waves were not crashing and he swam quite a bit. At home he swims in our pool two to three times a week, so this helped a lot. Walking along the beach lot’s of people came to pet him which was really great for his social skills. Needless to say, he conked out the whole 2-hour drive back home!

When exposing a young dog to new things, he will cue off your attitude. So your feelings, body posture and tone of voice will determine his attitude to the new stimuli. I never for a second doubted that he would take well to the ocean, so by not cooing and pampering (“It’s OK, it’s OK”) but just encouraging to chase his leash through the turf, watch his mom retrieve a toy and sitting calmly without reacting to the waves he decided it was OK.

A hot button for me regarding my “the more the merrier” approach to socializing is the fact that we are usually scared into NOT socializing our puppies until they have completed their vaccination schedule. Well that is not going to happen until my puppy is 6 months old and by that time my window of opportunity will be closed!
I understand the reason for this: my puppy could die from contracting a disease. Now consider this: most of the dogs that end up in shelters (which have a very real chance of being killed) are there because of behavioral issues. I am convinced this could be avoided by proper socializing and training which can only be accomplished if your puppy is out and about. So take your puppy everywhere you can, let him play with other dogs, walk him where he will meet lot’s of people, everyone will want to pet him and enroll him in an obedience training class a.s.a.p!

The sooner the better and the more the merrier! And take lot’s of photos because 6 months go by FAST.

Yucky Yummies

Oliver is my 4th generation of “Raw Fed” Labradors. Yep, for the past 14 years all my dogs have been eating raw food a.k.a “Barf” or Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods.
The food bowl in this photo contains a typical meal: A raw chicken neck, raw beef tripe from a company called “Oma’s Pride” and reconstituted freeze-dried veggies called Veg-To-Bowl by “Dr. Harvey’s”. I know it looks disgusting but Oliver will take just a few seconds to gulp in down,
he went from Holly’s milk to this!

In a nutshell, this diet is based on the fact that dogs are carnivores and they should eat only meat. Wild dogs have no access to stoves to cook food, so everything they would eat would be raw. Raw food contains live enzymes which are necessary for the proper functioning of the body and to maintain a healthy immune system. The diet also calls for variety, how would you like to eat dry cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner for ALL your life? I will rotate the usual meal with other foods like raw beef, turkey, sardines, eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, and fruits. I also add Salmon Oil which make their coats glow.

I know many of you have been scared by your vet with warnings about Salmonella and E. Coli, splintered bones and other horror stories. Guess what? in 14 years I have NEVER had a any issues. My dogs have awesome coats, shed a lot less, have hot spots, no ear or urine infections, hardly need baths and never have to go to the vet to have their teeth cleaned.

Oliver’s great grandmother “Stormy” was switched to a Raw diet when she was almost one year old. She lived to be 14 and for about 13 1/2 of those years she was vibrant and very healthy. Stormy only went to the vet twice, for a C- section and when she was kicked by a horse. It was only the last 6 months that she got progressively more arthritic and when she could not get up anymore we decided to let her go peacefully.

The American Veterinary Medical Association recently published the following facts and figures on the most prevalent health problems in dogs in the USA that caused owners to seek veterinary treatments:

  • Skin “allergies”
  • Ear Infections
  • Stomach upsets
  • Bladder Infections
  • Benign tumors
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sprains
  • Eye Infections
  • Hypothyroidism

Since most of the animals from this study have been kept indoors all their lives, what is causing so many health problems? I think a combination of the quality of food, water and the routine so called “preventive” medications, such as vaccines and flea/tick topical pesticides, are the culprits of many of these conditions.

We owe it to those with no voice to do the research that enables us to make informed decisions and not be scared or blindly led into conclusions that may not be in our animals best interest. If you have animals with skin conditions and are sick and tired of being sick and tired with traditional veterinary protocols that offer only a temporary relief, I strongly suggest you look into Raw Diets for a solution. The best book on this topic is: Living Enzymes by Robert Mueller.

For me there is no turning back!