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.