It’s been a truly British spring with a good mixture of showers, that one week when it seems summer has arrived early and everyone gets super excited, followed by the inevitable and entirely predictable icy cold temperature reality check.
It’s been a truly British spring with a good mixture of showers, that one week when it seems summer has arrived early and everyone gets super excited, followed by the inevitable and entirely predictable icy cold temperature reality check.
Where does the time go, another month has shot past. The influence of testosterone on Archer’s growth is becoming pretty obvious as he has started to look a bit “hench”, as the kids would say. He’s pounded on muscle especially around his neck and chest. It’s reached the point that his head is starting to look a little too small for such powerful shoulders. His feathering also seems more pronounced on the back of his legs, stomach and most noticeably his tail. On the odd occasion that something kicks him off, he truly is something to behold, chest out, head and tail up is enough to give anyone pause for thought, usually followed by a bounding climb down and lots of licks.
Along with the physical changes he’s starting to show a more than playful interest in some female’s, specifically a Newfoundland we bump into regularly. Twice now I’ve had to pull him away, he’s still not sure what he’s doing so he just does a bit of snakey hip dancing behind her, but the intention is there. Worse still when I’ve leashed him and done the walk of shame to the other side of the field, he’s feigned non-interest and as soon as I look away he shoots back off across the field after her. I suspect he’s going to find himself on a long leash more often than not at this rate.
We are now 3/4 of the way through Archers first year. He’s still very much a puppy, I’ll grant you he’s a big puppy at 33kg as I discovered to my cost when he and a 20kg Vizsla hit my knee full on at over 10 mph. For the nerds, that’s 625 joules of energy enough to light a 100 watt light bulb for 6 seconds, which is half the time I needed to have a light bulb moment myself; never ever take your eyes of a frolicking pup. My top tip after several such encounters is to try and keep your knees bent (just like a parachute jump) it’ll give you something to do while your life flashes before your eyes.
Archer had a visit back to the vet, partly for a checkup and partly to restock the various anti-parasite drugs that prevent him from becoming host to a whole range of beastly little friends. He was a little nervous but on the whole, he does associate the vets with fun, thanks to the puppy classes he attended there. It also helped that the vet knew him on sight as we’d bumped into her several times out walking her own pup. After some liberal poking and prodding, he passed his physical with flying colours.
The conversation finally came around to what to do about his love spuds. As I posted previously I’m at a loss on the subject of neutering. It seems to be a hopeless balancing act between various risk factors including prostate cancer, testicular cancer, joint problems and emergent unsocial behavioural traits. The vet essentially confirmed the situation and outlined from her perspective the lowest risk strategies:
The vet said she made it to a year with her lab before the quality of life (for her and the dog) had reached a point where there was little recourse but to snip the problem in the bud(s). So we’ll play it by ear and see how far we can get, I’m under no illusions, it’s not going to be easy and I’m already starting to see the early signs of what’s to come. The longer I can keep my patience, the better the outlook for Archer, we shall see.
If I was in any doubt of what a challenge Archers trip into adulthood will be it has been cemented in the last few weeks as I’ve watched him slip into another world. His growing interest in smells of all kind has become more of an all-consuming addiction. We no longer go for walks together, I might be standing right next to him but I might as well be a universe away. During these times It’s next to impossible to get his attention, he’s so totally lost in this world of smells. It’s even beginning to overtake his once primary passion for play, I’ve seen him seemingly chasing down another dog, only to see him swerve off at the last moment to stand and smell a tuft of grass for 5 minutes utterly transfixed.
He currently spends at least half of any walk lost in this peculiar state, attempts to pull him from its grip rarely work and in the odd case it did, it’ll last a minute at best. I’ve literally put high-quality treats in his mouth and he’s spat them on the floor and shot off to inspect a particularly interesting tree stump.
Of course, there is one smell above all others that he is hunting for and when he finds its source he is capable of turning into an absolute monster. There is nothing more embarrassing than trying to pull him away from a female he’s taken an interest in. He’ll dance around the other dog and its owner keeping me on the other side of them unable to stop him. Needless to say in such moments there are no commands or treats that I can offer to entice him away. For him it’s a game for me it’s a nightmare. Worse still he hasn’t even figured out what he needs to do yet, it’s just the smell he’s interested in.
There will come a day not too long away when he’ll run for miles following that smell and I fear before then he’ll, unfortunately, find himself on a long leash. It seems like a step backwards, but in reality, it’s just another phase of his development. Luckily there are walks we can go on where his chances of coming into contact with other dogs are relatively low. So we’ll probably just mix it up until his recall returns in a few years.
He can finally swim, yet another innate instinct he didn’t need to be taught. We found a great spot on a local walk where they launch boats down a nice long ramp and the SS Archer made his first tentative voyage. There is nothing more impressive than a grinning golden retriever creating a bow wave as he chases a stick into the water.
There are however a couple of issues with him swimming:
With each swimming lesson, he gets more confident and visibly stronger. The only concern now is that’ll he’ll swim off across the river or worst still start chasing ducks, which I suspect would be somewhat frowned on by the park wardens.
Archer is back into formal training, last week was the introductory class and let’s just say it was a bit of shock to the system for both of us. It was far removed from the casual puppy classes he had previously attended, instead, an hour of fast-paced commands left both of us knackered. Archer didn’t help himself, having half killed himself before the class had even started, he was so excited, so many dogs and he wanted to meet them all, pulling at the leash like a bucking bronco.
All the new pups were taken into a small side room for evaluation, there were six of us in total with a good mixture of pups with age ranges from 6 months out to a year. One owner was told to put their dogs toy away, this was “a place for work, not fun”, one of the trainers said. That was a bit of a rude awakening.
We each gave some background on our four-legged friends and the challenges we were facing. It was at least encouraging to both hear and see that everyone was dealing with the same problems, walking on the leash and the elusive recall. Archer had remembered a good amount of the basics although he does have a tendency to get a bit bored after he’s done the same thing a couple of times, that and the constant distraction of the other pups. Which is actually a good thing, all his commands work perfectly in the quiet of the front room, but they need to be able to work everywhere.
Archer managed to get through his treats within the first 30 minutes of the class (I must remember to bring more next time) luckily the trainers had plenty more and Archer loves a cocktail sausage. We had a break at the halfway mark so the dogs could attend to any calls of nature, needless to say, Archer took the opportunity to dump an almighty poop in the middle of a pitch black carpark. I was just thankful he didn’t deposit it in the room, as one poor owner had to contend with.
By the time we got home, I had an overtired, frustrated, stroppy pup who wanted nothing to do with me. He couldn’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to just play like normal. Next week we are in the main hall with the majority of the dogs, that’s going to be an interesting experience. Hopefully, Archer will have the good sense to at least pace himself next time.
Archer thoroughly enjoyed his first Christmas, between countless presents, extra treats and generally being fussed overnight & day by my nieces. The highlight as far as he was concerned however was being part of a pack. He spent the majority of Christmas playing with the rest of the family’s dogs (see photo above). He had met my sister’s dog (chocolate lab) earlier in the year but had not met my parents (golden lab) before. Needless to say, all being gun dogs they got on like a house on fire, even with all three dogs having very different characters.
It appears dogs are like children when it comes to unwrapping presents in their tendency to be more enamoured with the wrapping paper than the contents. All three dogs had great fun shredding ALL the wrapping paper. Archer is still working through his new toys halfway through January. His current favourite is a soft toy duck (see above) that’s he’s starting to get a little over friendly with.
Even at 8 months, Archer is a good bit taller than the two labs each of whom are approx. 18 months old. To be fair both labs are quite small for the breed but even so it’s a good indication of how big he’s now getting. That said he was definitely still the pup of the pack with the older wiser dogs putting him in his place, lest he forgets.
Boxing day was a fun trip to a mostly deserted local beach where all three pups managed to splash around in the waves. Archer spent the majority of the time eating the seaweed. Thankfully the weather continued to be mild over the festive period.
The only downside to Archer’s fun was the 6-hour car trip there and back. He’s used to travelling in the car for journeys up to an hour. Unfortunately, the longer journey stressed him out quite badly, he refused to settle down for the entire trip and by the time we got to the other end he was utterly exhausted. On meeting his family he managed to rally and shake it off. On the way back, after another 6-hour ordeal (2 x 3 hours) he was done for. When he finally got home he made a beeline for my sofa spot and flatly refused to do anything for the rest of the day. A very unhappy pup, in the future we’ll need to give him a sedative for his own benefit.
Overall though Archer had a fantastic time and he really misses his family pack.
With each passing week and month, our little puppy is transforming into a full-blooded adult dog. In the last month, he’s started to show some “new” behaviour. On our most regular walk, I noticed he had started urinating in the same spots on the way around and then finally last week he cocked his leg for the first time. I’m not sure if I’m meant to be proud or not, but the implications are definitely not lost on me. He’s also starting to take an immense interest in seemingly random fauna, logs, walls etc. Stopping on occasion for minutes at a time to ensure he’s fully read what are no doubt smelly messages left by other dogs.
I think his awakening began a couple of weeks back having literally run into the back of female in heat. One minute he was a happy go lucky pup minding his own business the next minute:
You could see even he was struggling to understand what was going on, not quite sure what it meant but knowing that it was really really interesting. I had to leash him and take him home as I couldn’t get much sense out of him. So too did the poor lad who was walking the female, I’m not sure he had actually realised she was in heat as it was his Aunt’s dog, that or he didn’t understand what chaos it would unleash in the park that morning.
The other notable behavioural change is he appears to be going through another fear phase. Odd things will scare the bejeezus out of him and it will be totally random things, a bag in the wind or smell on a tree stump will trigger him to cower and run. I’ve let him out in the garden a few times only to have him come running back in tail between legs looking like he’s being chased by the devil himself. I’ll admit on occasion he’s even got me concerned enough to look out the window before going to the back door, such is his conviction. When in reality it was probably a leaf landing on his head.
The best example of this irrational fear response was I ordered a new brush for him, his coat needs some daily attention at this point. Anyway, the brush is delivered, I pull it out the bag and Archer takes one look at it and totally loses his s****. In such times of abject horror, he’ll run to where I sit on the sofa and curl up there. So, of course, I take the brush and try to show him it’s just a brush but he can’t even look at it, I try to use it on him and he runs upstairs and hides under the bed. It’s been a week and every time I pick the new brush up his tail goes between his legs and he’s gone. I honestly don’t understand what happened but it looks like he’ll need therapy to get over it. In the meantime, I have a very good brand new brush gathering dust rather than hair.
To compensate for this lack of confidence he has in the last week on two occasions gone the other way, stood up tall, pushed his chest out and raised his tail and confronted what scared him. There’s a photo above of him confronting a plastic sheet that was proving particularly threatening. The other occasion was a chap standing at a gate who was shouting for his dog that had decided to have some fun in the wood. Archer actually got between me and him and made himself look big and butch and barked at him. Which was unprecedented, he also thankfully had the good sense to back down when the chap matter-of-factly said good morning to him.
I have yet to see any of the other testosterone-fuelled behaviours but it’s only a matter of time and it will force me to make a decision on when to get him neutered. The conventional wisdom for years had been to neuter early before 6 months for males but there is an increasing amount of evidence to suggest neutering before full development can have a significant detrimental impact. Specifically, this paper would indicate up to 500% increase in joint problems in neutered male golden retrievers. So, for now, I’ll gather more information.
Archer is the product of 150 years of breeding to produce a gun dog that is specifically designed to retrieve shot waterfowl from lakes. Now I don’t shoot and I have no plans to start, our reason for getting a golden retriever was for its legendary temperament. But what I am increasingly discovering is all that breeding is hardcoded into Archer’s very DNA, in addition to his physical adaptions (webbed feet, double coat) his very instincts have also been modified.
This became apparent the last time we were at the dog pond. After months of cajoling him into getting wet, it finally clicked. I’ll grant you it took a surreptitious literal push in the right direction but he finally got it. He’s not swimming quite yet, the pond in question isn’t deep enough (I wouldn’t have pushed him otherwise) but he did discover a number of logs floating in the middle of the pod. What better water and sticks and I can tell you he has never had a happier moment in his entire life than pulling half a tree out of the pond onto the bank where I would obviously push it back in. Something clicked and I truly think he found his raison d’etre in retrieving logs from that pond.
There are other more subtle examples, like the way he’ll pick up a thrown soft toy. Every dog I grew up with would literally rip the toy a new one. Archer picks the toy up with such delicacy that you’d think he was retrieving eggs.
Or the fact he doesn’t care about loud noises. We walk around a country park that has bird scarers that sound like a shotgun going off, an almighty bang. I’ve met fellow dog walkers heading for the exit because their dog is terrified of the noise. Twice now we’ve been very close to these devices, enough to give me a start. Archer, however, is either deaf (I don’t think so he can hear a treat packet being opened 3 rooms away) or simply doesn’t give a damn. We didn’t train him to deal with loud bangs it appears to be instinct again.
What amazes me, is how much of his behaviour is nature as opposed to nurture (background). He’s never been shown these behaviours, I never taught him them and his mother hardly had a chance. The instructions must be encoded in his DNA and made physical in the very specific way his brain developed. He is the direct sum of 150 years of choices, this feature over that feature, minute little changes generation after generation guided by human hand. As a software developer, I can only marvel at the patience required to encode instructions in such a way.
At 7 months Archer is a very healthy 28kg of muscle, skin, hair and slobber. He looks better proportioned in the last month as the hindquarters have finally started to catch up with his bulky chest. He continues to be very lean, his considerable bulk being mostly muscle. He still has big folds of spare skin particularly around his neck but I’m starting to suspect that’s more to do with defence than the extra growing room. Other pups love to get a mouthful of his neck (or an ear) and I’ve seen him pulled around by it on more than one occasion, without much of a care.
His coat remains snow white with a hint of gold on his ears. When wet (see photo above) his coat looks majestic especially his mane. His two-layered coat serves him well, a lot of dirt can simply be brushed out when dry.
Where once he would sleep under the coffee table now he can’t even get his head between its legs. Which of course doesn’t stop him having a go. Overall he’s about the same size as most adult Labradors he comes across, which means the latitude given to him as a puppy is starting to wane. Where once his bounding would be greeted by excited “Oh he’s a puppy” now it’s more than often likely to be greeted by screams and rapid attempts to protect loved ones. It’s another lesson Archer is struggling to come to terms with given that from his perspective nothing has changed.
He still sleeps a LOT, a typical day is broken down into 1.5hr-2hr walkies, 2 hours of general chewing/light play, which means he still spends 18-20 hours a day dozing or sleeping. He typically sleeps from 8-9pm through to 6am in the morning demonstrating far better bladder control than I can.
Archer’s body clock is as accurate as any atomic timekeeping source. 6am every morning he climbs onto the bed, not fully he’s not allowed on the bed, just the front legs and bulk of his 28kg torso applied skilfully to Wen’s legs until she pokes me and tells me he’s awake. I don’t know why he doesn’t wake me up directly, maybe he’s tried and I’ve just ignored him. At this point, it’s a bleary-eyed stagger (for the both of us) to the back door to let him out, feed the cats and give him his breakfast. He’ll then go back to sleep and if I’m lucky I’ll join him.
9am is the next key milestone on the pup’s busy daily schedule. He’ll start to get restless if it gets to 9:30 and I haven’t made a move then he’ll sit in front of me, turn his head to look out the window and then look back at me. To be clear most of Archer’s non-verbal communication involves looking at me and then looking at what he wants and back at me. It’s a work in progress at the moment, basically looking right means walkies that’s easy, however looking left could mean toilet, food, water or the cat’s in my way again.
Midday is dinner (he’s still on 3 meals – possibly not for much longer), this is usually about when we get back from walkies so he’ll woof his food down and then get into his afternoon siesta until about 4-5pm depending on how tough a morning he had. It’s then playtime for an hour, before his tea around 6pm.
Wen and I typically don’t eat until gone 7pm. When we do we’ll give him a Kong or chew stick while we eat as his treat for the day. By 8pm you can probably imagine he’s totally worn out, poor thing.
We covered another 100km+ walkies in November and amazingly the weather (on the whole) continues to be mild with only a couple of nights of frost. Unfortunately, the side effect of this has been rain and many of Archers’ favourite walks have been reduced to quagmires of slippery deep mud. Not that it bothers him in the slightest, in fact, the muddier it gets the happier he seems to be.
The final straw was a walk around St Mary island a paved route devoid of mud, 45 minutes in and he’s spotless, bored but spotless. I almost made it off the island but on passing the dog pen for once it was full of dogs playing and I’m not that cruel. It also didn’t look that muddy so I let him off much to his delight, bounding around and playing with the other dogs the way only a 7-month pup can do.
Now I was aware that there was a hole that the dogs liked to dig in, you can probably see where this is going quicker than I did. The last time I saw this hole it was about a foot deep and it was dry, by the end of November it was now about 2ft deep, a foot of which was liquid mud. Worst still one of the other dogs had dropped his ball down it, he kept returning to try and dig it out and Archer is always so very willing to help. You can see the results in one of the photos above, on the long walk of shame back to the car.
It was at that point I gave up fighting it and accepted that trying to keep a white pup clean during Winter is my Kobayashi Maru test. I decided to accept defeat with good grace and a hose.
My first attempt to deal with mud was to bath him, it took 30 minutes of him splashing about and by the end, both myself and the bathroom was soaked and caked in mud. It took another 30 minutes to clean that up, which is clearly not a tenable situation. After the next walk, I decided it was going to have to be the hose in the garden, so holding him by his collar I proceeded to spray icy water on to the worst of the mud. In the blink of an eye, he reared up twisted around and proceeded to simultaneously crush my hand and garrote himself. We mutually agreed that didn’t work.
In the end, I built a pen out of spare metal fencing and dragged him into it, The next 5 minutes were to be fair harrowing, I’m not going to sugar coat it. I might as well have been spraying him with acid from his reaction Keep in mind this is the same pup that will happily wade through water up to his ears just for fun. I was finding it hard to reconcile that with the shaking mess staring up at me. I finally let him out (clean) and he shook the worst and bounded at the towel I was holding. Twenty seconds later he was a happy go lucky pup again.
We’ve been through this process a few times now. Archer’s still not a fan but he at least now accepts it and will now walk into the pen with a “get it over” attitude.
The puppy honeymoon period is well and truly over and we are now getting into details that weren’t covered in the handbook. As discussed in previous posts Archer love’s to socialise, he’s never happier than when he finds a playmate. Unfortunately, somewhere in all the close quarters play he appears to have picked up the Canine Oral Papillomas virus or to give it, it’s more common name puppy warts. Yes, it turns out that’s a thing, it’s common in puppies and they appear as warty cauliflower appendages. Luckily he has only a few small polyps on the inside of his cheek at this point, hopefully, it won’t spread so we’ll be keeping an eye on it and keeping him away from too much fun.
The general advice is to let him grow out of it unless they get infected or prevent him from eating (not likely). Evidently, we can look forward to them just dropping off at some undetermined point in the future, lovely.
As covered in a previous post Border collies have proven to be Archer’s nemesis when out in the field. But he has made some good progress in the last month and is starting to understand what’s required to pass a border check (no Brexit pun intended). In fact, he again came across the collie that attacked him on one walk and realising who it was (just in time) he proceeded to give him a good 50ft leeway. It’s the first time I’ve seen him adapt his engagement strategy from the default bound in and hope for the best.
His other nemesis at least if you are to believe the old adage about cats and dogs should be our cats Itchy and Scratchy. But having seen him from a pup they’ve had as much input on his upbringing as myself and Wen and he’s been schooled in good feline etiquette. Although he’ll still push his luck, it usually only involves a paw waved at him these days for him to get the message. You can see in the photo above they are more than happy to share prime seating spots.
Archer definitely favours his own breed when it comes to playing. The style of play between Retrievers (and to a lesser extent all the Gundogs) is boisterously unique and mainly involves wrestling with little running around and it can appear to be very violent. It’s also usually silent, other than the odd growl. I’ve only see Boxers (the breed) engage in similar play.
Other breeds tend to engage in various different styles of play, my generalised observations by class:
Of course, you’ll always come an exception to the rule usually when a particular breed has been brought up around another breed. It’s always fun to come across the exceptions.
Golden retrievers are known for their love of water, Archer literally has evolutionary mutations for swimming (double coat, webbed feet). So I ensure that a couple of times a week (tides allowing) that he gets an opportunity to get his feet wet. The trick at the moment is to ensure a muddy walk ends with a body of water so he can clean himself off (otherwise it’s the hose).
He still hasn’t quite got to the point of swimming, but he loves to paddle just as long as his feet are still on terra firma. My attempts to push the process along a bit have not gone so well, having got him to fall off the wooden ramp (see pond picture above), he steadfastly clung to the ramp with his front paws like a drowning man. Embarrassing not only because the water was only 2ft deep (if that) but because his whining attracted a number of good samaritan’s who were willing to lend a hand to save him. I had to wave them off pointing out that it was, in fact, a swimming lesson, no matter what Archer’s vocalisations might have been suggesting to the contrary.
In the end, I had to admit defeat, having pried his front claws off the ramp so he was left standing in the water he steadfastly refused to acknowledge that he wasn’t about to drown. So I plucked him out, he shook himself off and then proceeded to give me a proper bollocking, barking and jumping up as if to say you b******. That was a first, it’s usually me telling him off.
It’s been a while since I’ve found the time to post an update on Archer’s progress but given he’s just coming up for 6 months old I’d thought I’d provide an insight into some of the fun he’s had in the last month. Autumn has finally arrived and we are both loving wading through the multi-coloured sea of leaves. We’ve done quite a few kilometres of walkies in October:
It’s already obvious that mud is going to be a nightmare come the winter especially given Archer’s whiter than white coat. A fact fellow dog walkers love to remind me.
Needless to say, he has doubled in size again in the last month and judging by the size of his paws he’s not done yet. He still looks a little lanky and his front legs and chest look out of proportion to his rear section. It’s most notable when he tries to sprint as it often looks like his rear legs are trying to overtake the heaver front legs.
He thankfully made it through teething in just over a week helped along by some rigorous sessions with his pull toys. It really was quite staggering the speed at which the adult set has grown in. He’s now sporting a full set of shiny white gnashers that he’s always happy to flash in my direction. Best of all his breath has returned to just being doggy rather than smelling of rotting fish.
His coat continues to undulate and weave down his back and for the most part, he still remains white rather than cream. That is of course when he isn’t just mud coloured. The only problem with the waves on his back is at a distance it looks like the vertebrae of his spine, giving the illusion of him being criminally malnourished (see photo above).
As a dog owner, one of the key things you are desperate to ensure is that your pup is socialised, that he/she interacts well with other dogs and humans. It’s drilled into you that it’s critically important in those early months to ensure your puppy gets as many diverse social experiences as possible.
At this point Archer is amazingly social, bordering on being over socialised. Yes it turns out your dog can be over socialised and by that I mean he is not always correctly reading the body language of his victim, sorry, his new friend. His impulse to be friendly overrides good manners, which manifests itself primarily in how he interacts with adult dogs.
Adult dogs run a spectrum from timid to aggressive (just like humans really) with the majority luckily being somewhere in the middle. Dogs in the middle of the spectrum will typically tolerate Archer’s social faux paws. Even when he sneaks up on them and sticks his cold wet nose right where it’s not wanted.
Those at either end of the spectrum are where Archer is currently struggling. Timid dogs (if left to his own devices) he will continuously pester and try to goad them into some kind of play. It obviously never works, but that’s not going to stop him from trying it seems. Not surprisingly smaller dogs tend to be timider and as he grows bigger it is becoming more of a problem – one that will need to be kept in check.
But the real issue is aggressive dogs, there are many reasons why a dog may be aggressive and sadly in many instances, it’s good owners trying to correct the damage previous owners have inflicted. I have a lot of respect for the people who take on such a challenge and a lot of sympathy for the poor dog when a puppy decides to throw itself at them.
The issue isn’t that there are aggressive dogs, it’s the fact that Archer can’t yet read their body language, he’ll blunder into their personal space and having been given a clear warning, usually a snappy growl, he still continues to edge in towards them. Almost as if he’s trying to fix the situation, which he really can’t. Again left to his own devices he will leave a threatened dog no recourse but to snap and I have no doubt ultimately really bite him.
Clearly, neither of these situations are great. Archer is learning but at the extremes of the spectrum, he’s still struggling to realise it’s better just to walk away.
As discussed dog temperaments cover a wide spectrum and where a dog lies on that spectrum seems to be a mixture of nature (their breed) and nurture (their upbringing). That said, there is one breed that appears to universally hate Archer with a passion, Border Collies!
Now I love Border Collies they are beautiful, intelligent and the most obedient of all the breeds and we’d come very close to getting one ourselves. But for some reason, they take an instant dislike to Archer. It’s reached the point now where he’ll shove his tail between his legs, do a 180 and skulk off in the other direction if he sees one.
The old adage about there being no bad dogs just bad owners is very true. I was recalling a particularly aggressive Border Collie attack to a fellow dog walker and she described to a tee the offender and its owner. A sweet frail old lady, her dog had no collar and she had no lead (that’s a clue in of itself) and clearly lacked the strength to pull her dog off of another animal.
It wasn’t just Archer her dog had mauled and the poor thing had quite a reputation evidently. So the words of the old dear saying “She’d never done that before I don’t know what’s got into her” where either senility, denial or a flat out lie.
That incident aside, Border Collies are always very instantly stern with him. I have two theory’s on the subject:
I’ve no doubt given Archer’s prodigious socialisation skills he’ll figure it out, he is so eager to please everyone dog/human he meets. Growing out of being a puppy will help and if all else fails I could try camouflaging him so he doesn’t look quite as much like a little lamb.
My sister visited in October and brought her 18-month-old chocolate lab, Luna. We’ve been waiting for this get together to see how the two retrievers pups would get on. There seems to be a common theme amongst chocolate labs they are all totally mad, the general consensus from owners I’ve come across is they seem to be wired slightly different to their lighter and darker cousins. Something that I can definitely attest to.
By the end of the week, I was simply referring to her as the land shark and I had taken to feeding her at a distance greater than an arm’s length, having almost lost a finger or two. It seems that Luna has been raised as a lap dog, a job she took deadly seriously and was not up for debate if you chose to sit down. That, of course, was assuming she wasn’t doing her other job of acting like a scarf around your neck. So much energy in comparison to Archer.
The pups got on like a house on fire. We had expected the wrestling but I think we both thought after an initial bout it would all settle down. A week later they were still locked in good-spirited ear, tail and leg chewing at every opportunity with no clear winner. Archers bigger size was nullified by Luna’s greater experience and speed. If we had sold pay to view tickets no one would have complained about not getting their money’s worth that’s for sure.
Being focused on the dogs getting on, none of us had given a thought for how Luna would handle the two cats. Let’s just say it was a good thing that October has been so mild outside, poor things.
Our primary reason for picking a Golden Retriever is we wanted a dog that was “bombproof”. No, that doesn’t mean you can blow him up when he’s being a sod. It means he’s solid, dependable not prone to being startled or scared, sociable and generally laid back. Archer ticks all these boxes even as a 6-month puppy.
His biggest test was our annual Guy Fawkes firework party. The house is packed with kids and adults and the highlight of the evening is 30 minutes of the loudest fireworks that can be commercially bought in the UK. We had considered putting Archer to bed, but in hindsight, it would have been a terrible mistake.
At it’s busiest there were people packed in 2 small rooms and overspilling into the kitchen. Archer loved it he greeted each new arrival, without jumping up, just his broad grin and wagging tail. At one point I spotted him winding his way around making an effort to ensure he had seen everyone. He was gentle with the kids, even when they were jumping on him and pulling his ears. Most amazingly he didn’t snaffle a single cocktail sausage off a child’s plate even though they were tantalisingly at eye level. It really was amazing to watch, and as the evening went on and he got tired (he’s still a pup) he snoozed under the table, with all the chaos going on around him.
As for the fireworks. He had been out in the garden with me for a good half an hour before the guests turned up as all around us other peoples fireworks where going off and he honestly didn’t seem to care. When our fireworks went off he just hung out inside with a couple of the kids and parents who didn’t like the loud bangs.
He made it through his first Guy Fawkes in a spectacular style not putting a single paw wrong. We have been very lucky with pets as both of our cats are hugely sociable as well, they tend to turn up halfway through the evening after the kids have calmed down a bit, But they too love to press the fur, so the sight of both cats and the dog circulating was amazing.
The temperament of Golden Retrievers is legendary, having covered what Archer is like both outside and inside when socialising I think it’s worth describing what he’s like behind closed doors. Being only 6 months he still loves to sleep. He WILL sleep for 18 hours minimum a day, in fact, try and stop him getting 18 hours and he will literally just pass out on you.
When he’s out, he’s literally gone the loudest noise won’t stir him or even pushing and prodding him. It’s become a regular past time to re-pose him while he sleeps. But don’t be under any illusion he’s not alert. Say the right trigger word or rustle a treat packet and he’s on his feet heading in the direction before he’s even fully come to. If you think the Alexa keyword is amazing on an Amazon Echo you should see what an aeon of evolution can produce.
Archer is not a lap dog, he’s not a huge fan of cuddles either. He prefers to sleep alone. In the instances I’ve scooched up to him he invariably gets up goes and sleeps on the other side of the room. It might just be I smell having given up showering, what’s the point when you have a puppy? He’s not allowed on the bed, which is totally not a problem as he won’t get on it. He’ll get everything but his back legs on the bed, not to sneak on up but to just get some attention that he needs something.
Wen told him to go to bed the other night, took off his collar and turned the landing light on for him. He took himself upstairs (still a funny sight) alone and went to bed. The gate on the bedroom was open but he just went to sleep, that’s how serious this pup treats his Z’s.
I hate the term “old soul” and the implication, but at 6 months it truly is the best description I can give of Archer. His mannerism’s when not out in the field being a full on puppy is more of those of a 14-year-old dog than a young whelp.
I’m still hopeful that this year Christmas cards to friends and family will feature Archer, Itchy and Scratchy all curled up together. As you would expect after so many months they are relaxed to the point they’ll stand right next to each other, although there is still a personal space boundary.
For example Itchy every morning will sit in the kitchen doorway preventing Archer from getting out into the garden to relieve himself. Archer won’t push past him and Itchy knows exactly what he’s doing, the standoff only ends when I push Itchy aside, reminding him it’s his own breakfast he’s delaying. Kitty mind games for sure.
They still don’t play together, Archer still hasn’t figured out that snarling, bouncing up and down with tail wagging is not how cats play. But he can walk up to them (when they allow it) and sniff them. They will even bond together if I’m late putting their food down (or the clocks go back and they are out of whack for a week), I’ll get both cats and the dog now turning up as a united delegation. Mind you cats always get fed first, those are the rules I didn’t make them.
Scratchy keeps a very careful eye on Archer, particularly in the garden. At this point, I don’t need to see Archer to know if he’s up to mischief I just need to see Scratchy. If he sees Archer doing something dubious he basically stares at me and then at the dog and back at me with a “are you seeing this s****” look. He’s a right proper telltale.
We continue to train Archer on the basics. He’s currently between puppy schools having finished a 6-week program at the end of September. He will be enrolled in a new school shortly, one that ideally follows the Kennel Club’s Good Citizen Scheme.which will provide a clear progression and set of goals. Going back to the point we want him to be “bombproof” he’s off to a great start but it’s going to require work for us and him.
We have of course continued to re-enforce the skills he’s already learned and Wen continues to take a worrying amount of pleasure in putting treats all over his person and getting him to wait for the “yours” command. The poor pup you should see his little face if dogs could sweat it would be pouring off of him.
Which reminds me of a mistake I made while feeding him. Before we put his food bowl on the floor he is required to sit, we put the food down, he must then wait for the “yours” command before he launches himself at the bowl.
One day I was having a conversation with Wen while putting his food down, he was sat ready and I accidentally said “yours” in the conversation with Wen. I saw him just launch at the bowl, not realising what I had said and stopped and told him off.
Wen pointed out I had just said: “yours” that’s why he was going. Realising my mistake I apologised to Archer and told him “Yours”, he just looked at me, I pointed at the bowl, gestured towards it, repeated “Yours”. Still, no go, “It’s yours, go on”, nope! In the end, it took me a good 3 minutes to convince him that he was allowed the food. I have honestly never known a dog like him.
Archer continues his inexorable journey to adulthood, now weighing in at a hefty 18kg (39lb) which according to online charts and tables is just a little over the average for the breed at this point of his development. He is well into teething. every day he’s missing another needle-like milk tooth, unfortunately, his breath smells like rotten fish and he is leaving a trail of blood on anything that goes near his mouth. Hopefully, he’ll get through this fairly quickly, it’s typically 4 weeks by all accounts. He’s got some new chew toys to hopefully see him through.
Every day is a training day for Archer, practise and repetition is key. He is doing amazingly well considering his age having mastered sit, down, stand, wait, heel and paw all work in the living/class room. The real trick though is to make the commands work in the wild when out in the field, ideally at distance, that is still a work in progress. We are working on stop of late, which should halt him in his tracks, but he’s struggling with the concept of not moving.
The most impressive and fastest training I’ve seen him absorb was actually done by the trainer at the puppy club in 2 minutes and solved a problem we were having with putting his food down. He would typically have his nose in the bowl before it hit the ground. We had trained him using wait but it wasn’t hugely successful, dependent on how hungry he was. The answer was to put the bowl down and as he goes for it lift it back off the ground. If you do that for about a minute you can see the point the penny drops. You then give him a command “yours” in our case to allow him to eat the food. He now will sit and wait until he’s told he can eat, which makes feeding him a significantly less dangerous activity. We are now extending it for all food put down for him which is taking a little longer.
The most important command we’ve been working on is his emergency recall “touch” command after the horse paddock issue a few weeks ago. I make a point on every walk of recalling him when he’s distracted. i.e. far away, out of sight, approaching dogs on leashes, middle of playing. We’ve also been working on general recall so “come” will generally do the job probably 80% of the time to normal treats. So far “touch” has been 98% effective, mainly due to it always giving him the top quality treats.
We’ve also been playing a lot of hiding and seeking, Archer will often walk ahead, so if he gets too far I make a point of calling his name and then hiding. This has turned into a fun game for both of us. More importantly, it forces him to keep an eye on me, because I can (and do) run off at any moment. So he’ll typically now stay within a 10m range and look over his shoulder a couple of times a minute just to make sure I’m still there. Sometimes I just disappear without calling his name, just to shit him up. It’s good to remind him of his dependence on me once in a while.
Our off leash walking is really coming along, he spends about 3/4 of the walk now au naturel. Interestingly he behaves far better off the leash than on it (even the 10m one). What’s nice is we can now walk away from other dogs/owners after a quick hello most of the time. Unless they have also had a pup who wants to play in which case it’s time to get the tea and sandwiches out.
Toilet training is almost there helped by the fact he can now hold his bladder longer than I can. If the back door is open he’ll take himself out. If it’s closed he’ll come and stare at me and dart his eyes to the back door. He doesn’t use the pads in the house anymore and we are slowly phasing them out. The only issue is that he increasingly doesn’t use the latrine in the garden, favouring to ruin my grass, something I’ll need to start correcting. It does seem that standard treats are not enough of a reward to give up urination freedom.
Archer loves to play with other dogs and on the whole, he knows how to change his play style to suit his play mate. Most adult dogs are not interested in puppy nonsense and they’ll generally try to ignore him. The ball obsessed dogs I’m fairly sure operate on a different plane of existence, one where for all practical purposes Archer is invisible. But he is difficult to ignore when he’s stuck to you like glue, bouncing up and down like a demented energiser bunny.
It comes as no surprise that from time to time the adults will have to flatly tell him off, usually with a growly reminder of “look what big teeth I have”. Sometimes Archer will get the message, but more often than not he’ll need a second reminder of “look what big paws I have”, they’ll typically land a paw on his head to hammer (literally) the point home. If that doesn’t work, well there’s no choice, they’ll lean in close to his ear, teeth bared and snap “all the better to eat you pup”. That always does the trick, he goes white as a ghost (probably), message received the bounce drains right out of him.
When he does manage to goad a pup (or adolescent dog) into playing it can take a number of forms:
Archer’s favourite type of play is wrestling. He’s had a few bouts now and they look brutal with flashes of teeth and claw and often blood spatters on his beautiful white coat. Try and stop him or throw in the towel to early and he’ll sulk for the rest of the walk.
He’s has a couple of pink scratches on his black nose at this point, battle scars, you should see the other guy, who’s also wagging his tail with his tongue lolling out, eager to continue “playing”. As a retriever owner, you will find yourself inevitably inducted into the dark underworld of puppy fight club and needless to say you can’t talk about it. But I’ll break the silence just this once to recall Archer’s favourite “play” session this week.
Lady’s and gentlemen, in the left-hand corner, hailing from just down the road and weighing in at 15kg, the lawn destroyer, Archer! In the right-hand corner, hailing from just round the corner and weighing in at 11kg (give or take), the dark nemesis! A lovely lab cross (not sure with what a pinscher of some sort judging by the pointy ears), The lab is giving up a clear 2″ inches in height to Archer, so on paper, it’s Archers’s to win.
This will be a 5 round bout, of 60 seconds a round, no holds barred and the scoring of the owners will decide the outcome. My score card:
Round 1 went to the lab, he was quicker out of the starting blocks and he’s caught Archer off guard, pinning him to the ground for the last 20 seconds of the round. Lot’s of growling flashing of teeth and madly wagging tails.
Round 2 also went to the lab after Archer finally managed to get back to his feet, promptly runs sideways into a tree knocking himself back to the ground. The agile lab is back on him in a flash, working the ears. It’s all looking very one-sided, I’m thinking I might have to step in but he’s making it pretty clear he wants to fight on.
Round 3 and Archer slowly starts to turn the tide, using his weight advantage he rolls the lab using his long levers, forcing it to the ground, he follows up with some solid neck work. Like a shark, his eyes roll back into his head as he literally stamps his authority. Tails on both dogs by this point are a blur of frenetic wagging.
Round 4 and the lab knows it’s in a fight, it manages to get to its feet and run 5 yards before Archer slams into him sending him back to the ground. Archer has the panting lab just where he wants him, but it’s obvious they are both starting to feel the pace, their lunges slower laboured and more considered.
Round 5 – into the last round. Archer is flagging badly and the agile lab is starting to drag himself out from his grip. They have both made it back on their feet, it’s gone to paws, like two tired gladiators the pups are leaning against each other panting, their tongues hanging loosely from foaming mouths. I agree with the other owner that they’ve had enough and decide to call it a draw on the round and the match.
It takes another minute to fully pull them apart and calm them down. They would have been happy to keep going until total exhaustion, but then who’s going to carry them home? It’s not the first time he’s played with this particular lab, last time he lost badly having to tap out after some overzealous bites, so it was good to see him stepping up his game and more importantly having a fantastic time.
It does seem vicious at face value, but on closer scrutiny just like real wrestling the bites and swipes are all pulled, the growling excitement not anger. Either pup can stop at any time simply be yelping, so they both push it to the limit, cautious however not to over do their fun and bring the play session to a premature end. Not surprisingly with such roughhousing, there are a few bumps and scrapes, but in spite of these, I can guarantee you Archer is eager for a re-match.
We ended up taking Archer back to the vet’s this week, the final straw being a mild case of pink eye or conjunctivitis if you want to get technical. It appears to be par for the course with retrievers, my parents and sisters dogs having similar infections from time to time. With all the bacteria breeding in his warm moist bloody gums, it comes as no surprise that he might get an infection.
The vet put some staining eye drops in Archer’s eye so he could eliminate any scratches to the cornea. Unfortunately, it left him looking like a zombie dog, with florescent green eyes and bright green snot coming out of his nose, the picture above really doesn’t do the eyes justice, outside in daylight it was quite unsettling and he got some very odd looks on our walk home.
In addition to picking up some new doses of Advocate to protect him from a scary list of parasitic critters, We asked the vet to give him the quick once over to put our paranoid minds to rest. After a bit of prodding and poking, which he tolerated with good grace the vet gave him the thumbs up and put our minds to rest that he was indeed a perfectly healthy pup.
Archer enjoys his visits to the vets, thanks to the puppy socialisation classes they ran he thinks it’s a fun place, which makes a stressful situation a lot easier for both him and us. It’ll be interesting to see how long that lasts especially when he goes in for the chop in a few more weeks.
I’ll be honest, I’m starting to get a little worried. Every seasoned dog owner I meet takes one look at Archer and having learnt his age (4 months) pronounces “He’s going to be a big one”. Typically they say it in a laughing knowing voice while they appease their own monstrous Cerberus. Personally I prefer big dogs but this is starting to get a bit ominous.
It’s not helped by the fact that he’s starting to bulk out in the last couple of weeks, and put on some real weight which he loves to throw around. All of that weight is muscle, bone and skin. He already has powerful front legs and chest, the hind quarters are still slightly behind. As for the skin it ranges from being taught against the muscles on his legs and rib cage through to almost 2 inches of unused folds on his back and neck. Plenty of growing room. His soft puppy coat continues to be replaced by the river of cream swirling hair that is flowing down his back, in the right light he almost looks like an exquisite sculpture.
His whiskers also continue to grow, his cute little face is framed by them, above his eyes, around his muzzle and under his chin and they are in some cases several inches long. You would think with all that catfish sensory input he’d be able to catch a treat, you’d be wrong, he’s hopeless.
Chewing continues to be a source of frustration, as you would probably expect given he is essentially a set of teeth on legs. It doesn’t help that he’s starting to show signs of teething. On the whole he’ll stick to his toys or the cat scratch tower that is seeing far more use under his machinations than it ever did under the cats. The garden is taking the brunt of the damage so I guess I should be grateful. He has a special interest in ripping up the lawn in critical obvious places, chewing on trees and digging holes. I wouldn’t mind except for the fact he knows he’s not meant to be doing any of it, and still sneakily does.
The good news is he doesn’t seem to be trying to swallow stuff as much as he was in the past, he’ll often mouth something and then drop it again without me having to dive in. There are of course a few exceptions mostly poop related (horse, rabbit, cat – quite the connoisseur).
Digging is becoming a thing, he loves to dig which is not surprising given the huge paws and talons. He’s been on a mission to dig a patch between the storage bin and latrine. The problem is the cats love the loose dirt and they take every opportunity to deposit treats. They seem locked in some scatalogical symbiosis, with Archer essentially farming cat turds. It’s proving difficult to break these self-rewarding systems. In fact I’m fairly sure I spotted one of the cats goading Archer into digging another patch, by getting his attention and flip flopping in the dirt.
When he’s not actually digging he’s usually practising digging:
I was talking to a fellow dog owner and we were discussing when is the right time for the pup to get off the leash. His point of view was that it’s as big a deal as “I” wanted to make it. Fair point, there would never be a zero-risk scenario so I would just have to cut the apron strings and give it a whirl. So at one of the big parks far from the roads and with some large fields we gave it a whirl and it went very well. He kept up, was obviously happier and we both had a much more pleasant walk.
The second off-leash walk at the same park went well, except he ran off after another leashed dog and by the time I’d got there the poor owner had been forced to restrain him because he was likely to get attacked by her dog. I made my apologies and that ended off-leash walking for the remainder of the day’s walk.
Third time off-leash walk was going well and we were heading back to the car after a good walk. The park is criss-crossed with bridleways. It’s fairly rare to come across a horse on these tracks. But as you can already guess today there was a lady riding a near shire horse sized beast. She spotted Archer before I spotted her ( thank god) and shouted. The problem was Archer was about 20ft ahead of me, the horse 20ft ahead of him. None of my calls dissuaded him from continuing to move forwards, I’ve no doubt he was thinking it was just a big dog to make friends with. My chasing after him needless to say just made the game all the better.
The lady did a fantastic job of keeping the horse calm as I finally managed to get a hand to Archer’s collar and pull him aside. I made my apologies and thanked my lucky stars that the rider had been so vigilant.
The last time and I mean the last time EVER Archer will be off-leash he decided he would go through 2 wooden and a barbed wire fence to enter an adjacent horse paddock. Where he commenced to chow down on horse poop. Luckily the horses were at the other end of the paddock at the time or this would have been a car crash. But for 10 minutes I could not get him back, no call, nice or berating worked, falling to the ground, walking away, jumping up and down it made no difference. If anything he was slowly heading towards the horses. Finally my friends dog managed to lure him back to where he could be grabbed.
By this point my heart is pounding in my chest and all I want to do is throttle the little b*******. Instead I counted to ten, reminded myself it wouldn’t make any difference and at the end of the day it was my mistake not his. I resolved not to let him off again until I had a bomb proof recall command, if only to safe guard my blood pressure.
He’s booked in for 5 weeks at puppy school. The lessons take place in an old barn the other side of Bluebell Hill and are run by a European lady. Neither myself or Wen have managed to nail down the accent. But we are leaning towards German and not just because she has a huge German Shepherd. Needless to say her beautiful dog was the demonstration model, it followed her every command like it had done it a thousands times, which it no doubt had.
We were expecting a laid back puppy socialization experience with some light training, as it had been at the vet run puppy club. In reality it was a proper education and I’m not talking about the pup. It became clear 30 minutes into the session that it was the owners who were being trained. The teacher rattled off new command after new command, walking around to ensure her instructions were being implemented correctly. There was a 5 minute break at half way for the pups to have a quick drink of water before we got back to learning more of the basics – sit, down, stay, heal etc.
The most useful new command was “touch”. You get your pup to bump it’s nose against the palm of your hand and give him the best treat and biggest praise. Why is it useful, beyond being a fun game it also works as an emergency recall command. So it is used sparing, ideally when the pup is otherwise occupied and only when it can be rewarded. It’s a command I’d wish he’d learned a little earlier and needless to say we’ve been practising in earnest.
The puppy school ended with a tunnel run. There were 4 tunnels of different lengths ranging from approx. 15 metres down to 3 metres. The more experienced pups would run up the longest with some gusto. The new pups had to be thrown into the short section, usually with the teacher holding the entrance end up in the air to prevent the pup trying to get back out. Archer did fairly well, a little reluctant but at least he wasn’t one of the pups desperately scrabbling to get back the way they came in.
It was a really useful class and we ended up with homework – to work on all the basic commands in the coming week. We need to keep on top of these. I suspect there might be an exam!
Time is flying, summer is officially over and we are into Autumn. There is a definite chill when standing in the garden at 6:30 in the morning waiting for Archer to get his day started. He is now 4 months old and has been with us for 2 months and he continues to grow at a staggering rate, unfolding like an organic transformer to reveal a full-size dog.
I don’t think I fully realised how much he’d grown until I recall him fitting with ease under the small coffee table we have in the front room. His days of snoozing under the table are long gone, he can now easily straddle the table. Of course, it doesn’t stop him trying to get under it on occasion.
He still continues to make progress:
I keep having to remind myself he’s only 4 months old, he’s doing extraordinarily well when you factor that in.
We have settled into a bit of a routine which starts early usually with him huffing and puffing and fidgeting around, just enough to ensure I can’t sleep but without being accused of waking me up. I put his collar on, get dressed and carry him downstairs. Yes to the world he might be a big pup now but behind closed doors, he’s still a pussy. We can’t afford the 10 minutes of drama it would take to get him to get downstairs on his own. So I still carry him downstairs, he must be hitting 16kg by this point, all bones and licks.
He does his morning business, needing only a few gentle reminders of why we are standing out there. Then to breakfast, cats get fed first, those are the rules. He then gets his mix of chicken and kibble. He’s got a new insanely expensive special tummy kibble we mix in to settle his stomach as he still continues to have episodes where he’s fast and loose. Not really a surprise as he still continues to hoover up everything and it’s not all going to agree with him.
After breakfast he goes back to sleep until about 9am, usually basking in a sunbeam and I can get on and do some work. We then head out for walkies to one of several parks, I try and mix it up to keep it interesting, dependent on the weather, the tides (I kid you not) and the availability of his walking mate Syd.
Dependent on the venue we usually walk around for a couple of hours, and yes I am aware he’s only meant to have 20 minutes of exercise at this age, but I honestly don’t classify walking 10 yards and getting fussed over exercise. The seasoned dog walkers just laugh and tell me we’ll be out here for hours, and as always they are right. It’s more an exercise in socialisation at this point, meeting as many different types of people and dogs as possible. I know most of the dog owners and their pets temperaments by now.
After walkies, we go back home so he can squeeze in another quick snooze before lunch. More food to bolster him up for the afternoon’s main event, sleeping. This is my other window to do some work in the day. He’ll typically wake up about 4 or 5 when we’ll do a tour of the garden and have a bit of a play. He’ll then occupy himself for an hour, usually chewing something, sometimes even things he’s meant to be chewing.
Somewhere between 6 and 7, he gets his last meal of the day, as always the cats get their evening meal first as they can be less than tolerant of any perceived favouritism. If Archer is having a bad day (gastrically) he might get some of his kibble replaced with rice, just to bind everything together. He loves rice and I love the benefits the next morning.
Early evening is playing and otherwise messing, we bought him a new snek friend I’m getting lots of fun out of tying it around him like a Boa constrictor and watching him walk around with it, I think he likes it as well. He’ll often get a frozen Kong (filled with cheese/meat) or some other treats.
This evening play session usually ends with zoomies, where for 5 minutes he will go bat shit crazy and race around like he’s on fire, burning up the last of the day’s energy. Then by 8:30 he’s done and falls back to sleep until somewhere around 10-11 where I wake him up (I get my own back for him waking me first thing) for one more visit to the garden, or moth collecting as I like to call it.
Finally, Wen takes his collar off and we take the long walk up the stairs to bed, he can go up them, it’s just down he hasn’t mastered. He’ll go to his crate, curl up and go to sleep with only the odd growl or scuttling of feet where he’s dream running.
Rinse and repeat, the next day with a slightly bigger/heavier pup. I still don’t lock him in his crate overnight and he’ll get up in the night and have a wander around and sleep in a few different places, seems to mostly based on temperature and stretching.
I finally took Archer down to the local dog pen. A large fenced area where I could let him of his leash and he’d get an opportunity to properly practise his socialisation skills without the safety of me inches away ready to intervene. There was a father, his daughter and their beagle and for a quarter of an hour Archer had the stuffing kicked out of him by the beagle, he loved it. He’s never happier than when he’s on his back with a set of teeth around his throat. Every time you think it’s gone too far he pops back up tail wagging, eyes wide desperate for more.
After a good roughhousing the pups calmed down and started playing with the little girl. She had a stick and was quietly digging patterns in the sand and they were happy to help out with the hard work of turning her scratched sketches into trenches. Truly a joy to watch, although I have to admit a pang of envy at the speed she had both pups under her command.
Archer’s weight and size is a constant subject of debate. He’s growing at an extraordinary rate but not in a uniform manner. He seems very lanky with large paws and knobbly knees on his long legs. He has a relatively small head on a long and thin neck, huge chest, skinny stomach going back to a rear section that lacks a lot of the muscle power of his front legs. And it all ends in a tail that has a strange kink in the fur half way along. His coarse coat has been growing down his back in swirls, when he’s excited it turns out he has hackles that extend all along his back, making him look like he has a Mohican.
When he stretches you can often see his ribs and in the wrong light with his long legs flailing about he looks like one of the victims of neglect off of one of those terrible shock TV ads. A situation not helped by bumping into a couple with a 5-month-old golden retriever that was a good 2 inches taller, super fluffy and well rounded. Even at Archer’s prodigious growing speed, I’ll be amazed if he’s that size in just 4 weeks, we shall see.
He lost the first of his puppy teeth, the top two at the front (see photo above) they have already been replaced with adult equivalents. The rest of his baby teeth seem to be hanging in there for now.
Overall he’s a super fit and ungainly puppy. Most retriever owners I’ve met on my travels have thought he looked fit and warned of the dangers of going too far the other way, especially for this breed. I’ll just be a bit happier when he broadens out a bit as opposed to tending towards looking like a whippet.
Someone told Wen that there was a Nerf gun that fired tennis balls and she took it on herself to immediately order one. It turned up and sat on the table for a couple of days before I finally unboxed it and took the pup out in the garden for a trial. I must admit I’ve had (and modified) Nerf guns in the past and on the whole, they always lack power, not surprisingly in this age of kids wrapped in cotton wool and lawsuits. So I wasn’t really surprised when the first shot hardly travelled 20 yards, the pup still doesn’t get the idea of chasing balls, so he was even more nonplussed than I was.
I reloaded the gun and fired it again, ok that was a little better, it got some height and another few yards but it was far from spectacular. Archer decided it was so much fun he was going to go back to digging up moss out of the lawn in his favourite patch. I walked over and picked up the ball and reloaded the gun.
I shouted back at Archer to stop chewing the lawn, he was literally making a meal of it. He just looked up and gave one of his s***-eating grins before returning to his mossy meal and me with a loaded gun. Yes, I shot the ball in his direction with the intention of hitting the fence near him. and hoping the noise would be enough to wipe the grin off of his face.
Instead the Nerf gun launched the tennis ball like it was a rail gun and in spite of a crosswind and the fact that Archer was moving it hit him square between the eyes with such force as to throw him onto his back legs, he reared up in the air making an ungodly whining noise, his eyes blinking rapidly. There was no doubt he really was stunned, when he got his senses back he’s skulked off tail between his leg and hid under a bush.
I’m mortified, trying to coax him back out he’s just flickering his eyelids at me, oh no. I finally get him out from under the bush and fuss over him, he’s still not a happy pup. He continues to blink oddly all the way back to the house, where I threw the gun in a storage bin before checking the safety information to confirm that it did, in fact, say in strict terms not to be fired at people, who would have guessed that it applied to dogs too?
We get in the house and I have a proper looks at his eyes, his left eye is definitely not right, he’s refusing to open it fully, probably because I keep poking my fingers at it. He seems OK though, it was probably the shock I tell myself, he’ll be OK I’m sure he’ll walk it off. Wen gets home I confess that HER gun has damaged the dog. He’s still half asleep, but he’s still not opening the eye fully. Wen did point out that the aim is to fire the tennis ball away from you when the pup is with you.
Anyway we get to the evening I’m still not sure his eye is good, and I’m seriously worried I’ve blinded him. By this time he really is half asleep and trying to keep an eye open is a fruitless task. I put him in case crate for bed, walk over to turn the lights out, look back and he’s looking at me, one eye wide and one not. Oh crap, I rush him downstairs to show Wen and he’s fallen asleep in her arms, still unable to tell the extent of the damage. It’s too late for the vet, so I spend a sleepless guilt fueled night, thinking of all the worst case scenarios.
Next morning we’re checking him over, it’s a trip to the vet for sure. His left eye isn’t opening up normally, his right eye is fine. Wen’s looking up their opening times and I look down as Archer turns around, his left eye is open and bright and his right eye is half asleep. What the hell? A couple more blinks and both eyes are staring up at me …. got you! I could almost see the doggy grin!
It turns out a half-asleep retriever will often have squiffy looking eyes, I just never really had cause to scrutinise him that closely, but I have no doubt he took the opportunity to teach me a lesson. I got the message, he, on the other hand, is still eating all the moss.
Archer week 6, has it only been 6 weeks? It seems like an eternity. He’s now just over 3 months old and continues to grow at an incredible rate. He looks very gangly at this point with legs that are far too long and paws that look like hand-me-downs from an older sibling. I’m sure he’ll grow into them. In addition, his front end appears to be growing at twice the rate of his back end, so he’s starting to look like he’s skipping leg day at the gym.
Along with his physical growth, he continues to mature as a stroppy, arrogant, opinionated little bundle of attitude. He’s almost perfected his sad puppy eyes look, which he pulls out anytime he’s asked to do anything. He just needs his bottom lip to wibble and he’d be able to do a very passable impression of a rain-soaked orphaned child from a Dickensian novel. It’ll be a future Oscar-winning performance for sure. The only cure for such attacks is to pull out a treat, which has the instantaneous effect of returning him to being a lovely cuddly model of man’s best friend. It’s fair to say this Jekyll & Hyde act is running a little bit thin.
As far as I can make out, raising a puppy especially a Golden Retriever appears to be mostly about trying to secure a solid poop. I can now measure the quality of my days by the firmness of my pups faeces. After last weeks bout of diarrhoea, we managed to get Archer back to solids. Unfortunately, this only lasted a couple of days before I was facing another 3am double cleanup; at least this time he didn’t walk it around the room.
We knew it was bad when Wednesday morning he decided he wasn’t going to have breakfast, he didn’t even go and look at the bowl. This was a first, he’s always eaten his food no matter what consistency it might be coming out the back. We gave him until lunchtime to see if he’d turn it around, no joy. It was time to break out the secret weapon – rice and chicken.
For a pup that had 10 other siblings, Archer has surprisingly never been what I would call a food-oriented dog. He sits quietly and watches me prepare his kibble, I put it down, he’ll stroll over and slowly chomp it down over a few good minutes. In fact this week I was deliberately putting my hand in his bowl and taking bits out while he was eating it, an exercise from puppy club to stop him being possessive around food, and one Archer clearly didn’t need.
Until of course, he tasted rice and chicken, he literally breathed the whole bowl down in 10 seconds flat and I was in no doubt that if my hand had been in the bowl I’d now be fingerless. This was his first taste of chicken and it might as well have been the first time he’d ever eaten. He had to go back and check his bowl several times to ensure that he hadn’t missed anything before trying a “Please sir, can I have some more” act for several minutes.
He had rice and chicken for supper as well, breaking his previous speed record by a clear 2 seconds. The good news is, it sorted his bowel movement out beautifully. He made it through the night and delivered a prize albino deposit the next morning. The only issue now is he won’t eat his scientifically balanced puppy kibble anymore. We tried for two meals and he skipped both, in the end, we ended up having to put a bit of chicken under his dry food to get him to eat it. So it appears we’ve made a rod for our own back.
Archer has well and truly discovered his voice. What started as a whimper which tended to scare him more than anyone else has developed into a full-throated and at times ear piercing bark. I’m trying to convince myself this is a good sign of his ongoing development, What isn’t so great is it’s now his go-to form of communication, he’ll bark when he’s happy, excited, frustrated or upset. Which pretty much covers all the waking states of a 3-month-old puppy. And if you thought there was at least respite when he sleeps, think again he whimpers, chomps and muffled barks his way through the nights as well.
When left in the garden, invariably to let him get on with his number 2’s as he doesn’t like being watched (don’t go there), he used to just sit at the gate when he was done. Those days are gone, now it’s barks of “Oi! I’m done” echoing around the neighbourhood at 6:30 in the morning or 10 in the evening. Best of all if he keeps barking for more than 30 seconds he’s joined in serenade by at least two other dogs in the vicinity.
The real problem is the first and most important rule of training him not to bark, is to never return to him when he’s doing it. Whoever came up with that sage piece of advice I wager has never had to balance its application against continuing to let your pup wake up the entire neighbourhood. During the day I let him bark his heart out, but it’s not a strategy I can employ at all hours unless I want a brick through the window. We are going to make a few changes to his morning, evening routine to reduce the chances he’ll need to feel the need to bark.
He’s also taken to barking when he’s frustrated, either because someone isn’t playing fair with him (usually me) or if someone is doing something interesting (i.e. anything) in another room and he isn’t involved, he’ll whine and then start barking. These two are much easier to correct, although I’m not sure I can resist winding him up.
The last form of barking is insanely overexcited barking, if he thinks he’s getting chicken in his kibble (see above) he literally loses it. He honestly just doesn’t know what to do with himself, so he’s taken to barking out of sheer joy, I suspect if he wasn’t barking he’d have exploded in a puff of fur. It’s an easy one to fix, but funny as hell to witness.
He finally made it back to Puppy Club this week, and in addition to the usual pups:
We were joined by two lovely French pugs, whose names I didn’t catch either. The usual round of letting them off their leashes, leaving Lucy and Archer to last. The other pups tentatively explored the room and carefully introduced themselves to each other, all very civilised. Then the terrors were unleashed and all hell broke loose, with the usual violent play of two retrievers going at each other hammer & tong. Archer as normal spent most of the time on his back with Lucy at his throat, tail wagging, like a concuss boxer pleading for the towel to NOT be thrown in.
Amazingly the other dogs were starting to get the hang of this game, the french pugs joined in. Archer had Lucy and the two pugs on him at one point. Still loving it, still pleading for one more round. When Teddy the Tiny Terrier launched himself into the fray as well, trying to bite Lucy’s legs out from under her there was almost a cheer, this was the dog under the underdog. I think it’s the first time I could see the attraction of such a small and tenacious breed.
This weeks command was “wait”, we were on shaky ground as Archer has yet to fully grasp the temporal aspects of anything. If a dog year is equal to seven human years, a dog second equates to about a micro-second, I’d tried to teach him the command a dozen times over the last few weeks and it always ended up with a confused pup. Luckily Wen had decided she was going to do this week’s command before we got there.
The rest of the pups did fairly well, in fact, one of the pugs was doing so well that it took several minutes for him to actually realise he could have the treat. When Archer’s turn came, the first attempt as far as Archer was concerned was a complete success. Sit, Wait, Treat (all in under 3 microseconds). To the casual observer it might have looked like he had gone straight for the treat, but with the right equipment, it’s possible to see him sit, look at his gangly leg at an imaginary wristwatch and then casually get up to retrieve his reward. No point waiting for the specific commands, better to anticipate.
His second attempt was helped by the lady running the session firmly holding still for approximately 2 seconds given the definite impression of a planned wait.
I’m sorry to labour the pooping anecdotes, but it’s a big part of my life these days and I need to get this observation of my chest if only to ensure I’m not going mad. Archer’s trip to the garden for number twos should be a straight line from the patio to the poop spot, on a chilly evening that would be by my reckoning the most efficient way to get this simple task done.
Why therefore does he spend a good minute of his (and my) time, nose down tail up darting around the lawn like he’s trying to find pooping nirvana. As far as I can tell the route to the spot is as close to seemingly random as I’ve ever seen in nature. I’ve been fooled on occasion into thinking he’s found it only for him to change his mind at the last minute (the tease), the stars clearly did not align. Before I waste the rest of my days trying to find order in this chaos, I’m hoping someone already has some insight.
In the last week, he’s also taken to doing a final flurry after pooping, where he walks forward two steps and makes a token gesture of trying to bury it with two quick back kicks before walking off. He does it with such gusto he looks like a prancing Matador, after an epic victory. What in all of nature is the purpose of this move? He’s not buried it, at best he’s taken another two notches out of my lawn. If someone could please explain to me what the purpose is other than a puppy fist pump at another successful delivery, I honestly would sleep better at night.
Last week we were enjoying some lovely walkies. This week Archer has given up walking in favour of sitting and staring into the middle distance or working on his orphaned child impression. This has taken what should be 15-20 minute sessions and extended them out to roughly an hour. A combination of treats and tricks usually gets him moving again. On a couple of occasions I’ve been tempted to drag him (I am only human) he goes down more spectacularly than Ronaldo in the penalty box, so it’s hardly practical.
It’s frustrating, to say the least, there is definitely a pattern here where he will learn something, do it correctly for a period of time then regress, we keep seeing it playing out in different forms and has to be hands down the hardest part of raising a pup.
The highlight of this weeks walking was the opportunity to meet a truly humongous gentle St Bernard. The paws of which were the size of Archer’s head, when he went to unceremoniously sniff him between the legs (as is their way) his muzzle was larger than the gap between Archers front and back legs, sending him onto his back. All the time covering him in a wall of drool. What a fantastic creature, I’m not sure Archer was so impressed he seemed to have pissed himself. I doubt he’ll meet many dogs larger, which is a real shame.
I’m sure we’ll get the walking back on track, I have to keep reminding myself he’s only 3 months old. Patience, grasshopper!