Daddy’s little helper

Charlie heard that cuddling is the best medicine. Matt  says he agrees.

Charlie heard that cuddling is the best medicine. Matt says he agrees.

Matt woke up Thursday morning to a nagging migraine.

While he had experienced headaches before, this one seemed different. It lasted all day, and by evening he grew nauseous. I left to go to a meeting, and by the time I returned Matt was very sick. He had vomited several times while I was gone, and felt terrible.

As the night went on, his condition grew worse. And Charlie worried.

I could hear Matt heaving in the bathroom, and went to check on him. I stood at the door, peeking in, and Charlie nosed the door open, softly walking toward Matt. “Charlie NO!” I said, but it was too late. He walked to where Matt lay curled around the toilet, gently rubbed his nose on his hand, then sat down.

He wasn’t leaving.

While Matt grew sicker, he refused to go to the doctor. So I went to bed and hoped for the best. As I slept, Matt grew seriously ill, back spasms gripping his body, followed by violent retching sessions. Matt later told me he never got a wink of sleep, and that Charlie never left his side.

By morning, I found Matt laying face down on the bathroom floor. Charlie sat nearby, his brown ears pulled back, his puppy lips pursed.

Matt finally agreed to get medical care.

I called in sick, filled Charlie’s purple KONG with liver treats, then rushed Matt to the hospital.

Matt quickly was diagnosed with kidney stones, and eventually was kept for overnight observation. After about six hours, I took a break to run home to grab some toiletries, and to check on the dogs. Charlie greeted me tentatively, and looked out the front window looking for Matt. I quickly grabbed what I needed, fed the dogs and drove back to the hospital.

About 12 hours later (around 4 a.m.) I decided to run home to grab a bit of sleep. Both dogs were staring out the front window when I pulled up. Charlie hugged my legs with his paws, and softly cried. I had never heard him do that before, and my heart melted. I pulled Charlie into my arms and held him as he continued to whimper. I whispered in his ear.

“Daddy’s gonna be all right. Daddy loves you.”

He anxiously licked my nose.

Amazingly, after leaving the dogs alone for 12 hours the house was in perfect condition. I was grateful for that gift, and promptly slept for about three hours.

At 8 a.m. I woke up, and spoke with Matt. The doctors were filling out his discharge paperwork, so I could come get him. I was gone just a few hours, and Lex and Charlie were dutifully watching out the window when we returned.

The first thing we noticed was the fluff. Everywhere. It took me a moment to realize what happened, then Matt screamed out confirmation.

“You ate the bleepin’ comforter!!!” he screamed at Charlie.

Charlie dropped to his stomach, and wiggled his way out of the room.

After everything we had just been through, I was pretty sure a tore up comforter was the least of our worries. Matt grabbed the blanket, and threw it down into the basement.

Charlie trotted after Matt, following him to the couch.

“C’mon,” Matt said, patting the cushion next to him.

Without hesitation, Charlie in one motion hopped up and snuggled into Matt’s side.

Charlie was glad to have his daddy home.

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The first thing Charlie did once we got the Thundershirt wrapped around him? He yawned. We both agreed he was noticeably calmer.

I have to say when we first heard about Thundershirt, Matt and I hesitated.

The concept seemed too good to be true. Eliminate a dog’s separation anxiety by wrapping a tight shirt around him? Sure. I guess I’ve heard of weirder things.

But then we got a solid recommendation from our friend Lenny Z. And we watched a favorable news report. This was followed by testimonials from a few more friends.

Charlie fit in the low end of a size medium, so he will be able to grow into his Thundershirt.

We went to the website and poked around. After seeing that Thundershirt offered a full refund if it didn’t calm our pup, Matt and I were ready to commit.

Honestly, it felt good to have a solution. Even if it wasn’t a guaranteed solution, we finally had something to try out. The last few weeks with Charlie have slowly been eating at us, like a swift river tearing away at a river bank. His destructive nature has startlingly increased, and in recent days he has taken to barking at absolutely nothing at all. Sure, he is a border collie mix, but really?!? Our nerves were raw, and we needed something — anything — that would provide a bit of encouragement.

We bought the Thundershirt at a local PetSmart, where an associate told us we were making a good purchase. Since the store started carrying them last fall, the store has only had one return. Matt and I locked eyes. Was that hope we were feeling?

As soon as we got home, I ignored the 90-degree weather and tore open the box. Charlie would at least try it on. I pulled out the shirt, and marveled at all the flaps and velcro. Part swaddling/part straightjacket, it was surprisingly easy to get on. Thank goodness Charlie did not fight me. As soon as I fastened the last  flap of shirt, Charlie looked up at me and yawned. His eyes seemed a little heavier than usual. He snuggled into me.

This felt promising.

Resting with Daddy.

We kept him in the shirt for about a half-hour. It was long enough to see a change in Charlie, and to know that we would wrap him up in his Thundershirt when we went out for dinner.

As luck would have it, a loud, boisterous thunderstorm rolled through while we were dining at a Korean restaurant about 20 minutes away. Knowing Charlie was wearing his Thundershirt, we crossed our fingers and finished dinner.

Charlie greeted us at the door. We slowly walked in, scanning the couch for wood shavings from the window sill. The room was spotless. The window was still firmly affixed to the wall. Charlie was happy to see us, but not in the desperate way we has grown accustomed to. After our first day, we’re cautiously considering this thunderous therapy a success.

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Separation anxiety

At first, it was really cute that Charlie follows Matt around like the Pied Piper.

Charlie will lovingly gaze up at Matt, and trot behind his every step. In the morning, Charlie will lay in his dog bed until Matt rises. During the day, Charlie will nap on the floor by Matt’s feet. Then follow Matt out into the yard. In some ways this seems a natural extension of his border collie behavior. Herding daddy.

Yes Charlie, it is appropriate to chew on the squeaky squirrel. It is NOT appropriate to chew on the rug (see lower right corner).

This lovefest started taking a neurotic turn a few weeks ago. Matt and I walked out front to retrieve something from the truck, leaving the front door open. Charlie immediately jumped up on the couch to look out the front window at us, then started barking. As we walked back up to the house, he jumped on the screen door, howling like mad. It was hard to open the door because he was pushing against it so hard and I didn’t want him to shoot into the front yard. Once I got inside, it took minutes to calm him.

Then there’s the matter of the front window. While Matt was away on business, and I had to leave Charlie home alone for the first time, I came back to find he had chewed the window sill. He did some more damage a few days ago, so we bought bitter cherry to spray on the sill. Last night while we were at dinner, he moved up to a munton/window pane divider that we did not spray and did some serious damage.

Also this week, he chewed off the corner of a rug by our front door. Matt caught him in the act, and delivered a stern “NO!” but that didn’t prevent last night’s window feast.

Matt feels Charlie has deep issues that need to be addressed; I think he needs obedience class. The discussions have been tense.

It’s funny how puppy love can lead to relationship stress.

I think we are both right. Charlie is stressed out. Possible separation anxiety. I think behavior modification will work. And yes, Charlie needs more structure in his life.

In some ways this has not seemed like a big deal to me because the behavior felt familiar. I have had many puppies, and they all go through that terrible chewing phase. I’ve lost countless shoes, books, couches and cellphones to that cause. My laid back approach to this destruction is driving Matt mad.

But I do see the troubling signs that Matt has identified. It’s not that he’s chewing, it’s that he’s chewing in response to our absence.

It’s not healthy that Charlie can’t let Matt leave the room without freaking out. What began as a charming routine of Charlie following his daddy, has become an unhealthy fixation. And his destruction when we leave him alone is not acceptable.

Unfortunately, crating is not an option.

We’ve decided to seek help from a behaviorist. Despite our good intentions, our bright ideas have not gotten us too far.

We’re hoping an outside voice will guide us in the right direction.

NEXT: An unexpected solution.

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Growing pains

Charlie considers his options. The toy basket is looking good.

It was inevitable.

I knew it would be a matter of time before Charlie chewed something again. The first incident was when he chewed the wood muntin/window pane divider in the front room. Unfortunately, I was not home when it occurred, so I lost the opportunity to positively reinforce the idea of eating a squeaky squirrel instead.

This time it was the edge of a rug by the front door. Honestly, not that big of a deal. But Matt was there when the destruction went down, and he swiftly delivered a stern, “NO!!!”

Being a sensitive border collie, Charlie acted like he was shot through the heart. Squeaky toys were presented as peace offerings. And soon enough, he was wiggling and snuggling like usual.

Up til now, we’ve been unbelievably lucky. Charlie loves his basket of toys. I fill it up, then he unpacks it one squeaker at a time. He’s only defluffed one toy, a squeaky giraffe, but we actually don’t have proof he did it. The alleged stuffing assault took place while Charlie and Lex shared a cabin at Camp Bow Wow. Lex has pleaded the Fifth.

BONUS FOOTAGE: Charlie bites a spider … or is it the other way around?

As of today, Matt and I still have all pairs of our shoes. And not one book has teeth marks in it. Believe me, I know that I have it good. I once owned a dog that ate my cellphone, completely deconstructed a couch and jumped through a window.

So chewing on the corner of a rug seems like small potatoes.

Still, I know it’s destructive behavior. He was bound to have some growing pains. We need to address it swiftly, in a positive manner. But Charlie is smart. With the right direction and reinforcement, he’ll continue to grow into a model canine.

In the meantime, I’ll be investigating dog obedience classes.

It couldn’t hurt.


Charlie and Lex celebrate a seat up front on the ride home from Camp Bow Wow.

It’s only been six days, and I hardly recognize Charlie.

In the time he and Lex stayed at Camp Bow Wow, Charlie grew almost to Lexie’s height. This, after gaining only 1 pound in the first month we had him. Matt and I slip away to Florida, and he experienced a massive growth spurt.

All of this fades away when I crouch down and pull Charlie into my arms. He wiggles and writhes, melting into a bumbling mess of puppy kisses.

Charlie hops off my lap and slides next to Matt on the couch. He nuzzles Matt’s ear, and Matt gives in, pulling him closer.

Oh yes, I think I recognize this pup. How could I mistake his gentle energy? His uncanny ability to love his way into forbidden territory on the couch?

Lex comes in close, and I lean down only to be intercepted by her gaping mouth boinking off my nose. I’m not sure about this move, but in recent months she’s taken to this awkward show of affection. I silently wonder if it’s a symptom of her dementia. She looks good, her eyes seem clearer than usual. And her energy level defies her 14 years; she even tries to play with one of Charlie’s tennis balls.

Matt said the reunion at Camp Bow Wow was emotional, with Lexie jumping up in his lap, then spinning in circles. It’s hard for me to imagine her this excited, but I take Matt at his word.

Getting them in the truck was a bit of work (Lex missed on her first try, and tangled her legs in the running board) but once they were in they staked out a spot in the front seat. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it also must make the memory grow fainter. The dogs are supposed to ride in the back seat, but Matt allowed them to ride up front for the entire 15-minute ride home.

Knowing this was a special occasion, they behaved, and slipped in a few puppy kisses.

I totally know these pups. How could I be mistaken? Upon returning, Charlie would sniff out the front room, then grab his favorite plushie toy from his toy box. And Lex would hop into her favorite spot on the couch. Matt placed their beds back in the bedroom, marveling at how they were returned in one piece (well, almost). He would later boast about how the staff members at Camp Bow Wow said goodbye to the pups, and how they told him the dogs were model campers. Awwe, proud mama alert.

Yes, I know these dogs.

I’d know them anywhere.

I Spy.


Matt and I spent the better part of an hour today arguing if the little brown dog on the webcam was in fact Charlie.

I won this bet. At least I say I do.

Camp Bow Wow allows us unfettered viewing of Lex and Charlie. I access the footage through an app on my iPhone, so you can guess how small the images are.

This little dog looks a lot like Charlie, but I’m saying his fur is not dark enough. Also Lexie is missing and the place has kept them together up til now.

So yes, it’s kind of odd spying on our pups like this. But it’s made our vacation so much easier, knowing we can literally check in.

Having the ability to watch them from afar, we have discovered a few things.

Lexie is much more spry than we originally thought. She may have dementia and kidney disease, but we clearly saw her trotting deep in a pack of dogs. She was keeping pace, and even initiated playing once or twice.

Charlie is a leader at heart. More importantly, he’s a border collie. There’s no more denying it. Spending his days with about 15 other small dogs, he focuses much of his energy herding them. More often than not he will gather about 10 dogs into the middle of the room and trot around them. Then he will lead them outside for a romp on the grass. Classic border collie behavior.

Perhaps I should introduce him to some sheep.

For the record, I won the bet. I just checked and a puppy that clearly is Charlie is back in the pen, wrestling with a English bulldog.

I’m betting he’ll be herding that dog in no time.

(Below, Lex and Charlie take a moment to reverse spoon. They are in the lower right corner of the frame. )


Breaking the rules

When mommy and daddy are away, Charlie will … snooze on the couch.

Overall, I’d say the week with Matt away on business has been a success. Charlie mostly followed the rules. But it seemed every time he was doing something absolutely adorable, he happened to be sitting on the couch. Which is off limits.

Totally forbibben, if Matt is listening.

Still, we found a comfortable routine. I refereed as Lexie adjusted to eating soft food. Of course, Charlie was eager to help out. My job was to redirect his enthusiasm toward his bowl of puppy chow.

I threw the ball, but not as good as Matt. Charlie quickly lost interest after a threw the fluffy bone 10 feet. I don’t blame him.

The only bone of contention was the couch.

But seriously, how much training could I really unravel in a week? Considering I still have a working phone and the house is still standing, I’m calling this a victory.

I’m thinking of bringing the dogs when I go to the airport to pick up Matt. He’ll be back in a couple hours. Hey … where the heck is Charlie?

Oh my. Charlie is on his dog bed taking a nap.

Where’s my camera? Matt will never believe this.

Blood test results

Lexie in her favorite spot, soaking up the late afternoon sun.

Tonight the vet called to deliver Lexie’s blood test results.

Ordinarily this would be no big deal, but when the actual vet makes the call it’s obvious something heavy hangs in the air.

The good news came first: liver, normal; red and white cells in mid-range, normal.

Then she paused.

The results indicated Lexie’s kidney values are elevated, meaning she is in the early stages of kidney failure. I know this is common in elderly dogs like Lexie. But I also know this officially marks the beginning of the end.

The vet told me I would have to stop giving Lex the Meticam pain killer/anti-inflammatory for her arthritis because it will accelerate the kidney disease. She said I can give it to her for two more days, then only when she’s really in need.

There’s a chance this can be slightly managed through diet, but the vet suggested this was just the beginning of a rough road. She told me to watch for weight loss, lack of appetitie and diarrhea. I’m to make a return visit for more blood tests in eight weeks.

In the meantime, lots of biscuits and doggy kisses.

I detailed Lexie’s dementia symptoms, and how they seem to have progressed in the last couple weeks. My brother and his wife, who are visiting from Florida, have mentioned how different she has been. Most times, Lex looks through them, opting to stare off in space than to engage.

The vet said there is a medication that has proven marginal success. But mostly, she said it is a quality of life issue that I will have to evaluate on my own.

My heart is so heavy weighing all of these things.

Charlie has been the best little brother. He senses something is wrong, and has toned town his rough-and-tumble puppy play. By far, Lex is his favorite part of joining our household. He follows her around, and reveres her like a mother.

This afternoon Charlie has kept busy pulling out all his toys and testing the squeakers.

They all work.

NEXT: Touring Camp Bow Wow: Planning for a vacation when we have a puppy and an aging dog.

Home alone

Throw the fluffy bone again! Please!?! Pretty please??

I would be lying if I said I didn’t worry.

You see, today was not an ordinary day. It was the first time we left Charlie alone all day long.

I’m not on the couch. Seriously! I’m not on the couch.

I imagined a hole in our couch. Teeth marks on my Mission-style furniture. A fresh pile of poop on my bed.

Instead, I was greeted by a wiggly Charlie, who begged/dared me to give him an “I’m home!” rub. He triumphantly waved a chewy bone in his mouth.

Not a thing was disturbed. In fact, neither Lexie nor Charlie even touched a morsel of their kibble. Hmm. Impressive.

We moved to the yard, so I could throw the fluffy squeaky bone to Charlie. Somehow, this is his favorite toy for fetch. It’s absolutely awkward: a stuffed bone that weighs next-to-nothing and is almost impossible to throw more than 10 feet. Still, the sight of it makes him jump up and down like … a puppy!

Lex saunters at her own pace in the yard. Her wrestling days are over.

We tried tennis balls, but Charlie soon lost interest. He would zoom after them, then take a sharp right turn and attempt to tackle Lexie. Now that she’s a delicate 14 years old, we were not going to allow any of those shenanigans. We quickly declared Lexie a no-fly zone, and ….

Hey! What are these wood chips on the couch? And what happened to the front picture window? Are those teeth marks in the wood? What the ….???

So yes, just as I was about to present myself with the Most Awesome Puppy Owner award for Least Destruction in a Single Workday, the ceremony was quickly aborted. I couldn’t deny it, or even hide it. Charlie had chewed the front window.

The evidence.

The good news is that this window and sill were significantly damaged many years ago by another unruly dog. And I plan on replacing the entire unit with something without teeth marks (and more energy efficient) in the next year or so.

The problem is that for the next week, with Matt out of town, I have no way of correcting his behavior. I could hope really hard that he just won’t find the front window tasty anymore. Scientifically, I think that’s my best bet. In fact, right now I’m closing my eyes and thinking NO EATING THE FRONT WINDOW! and amazingly, Charlie has not left his bed.

See? It’s already working.

While Daddy’s away …

I’ve got a Nylabone, and I’m gonna chew this instead of the couch. I puppy-paw swear!

Since we adoped Charlie, Matt has been a constant in his life.

And now, for the first time since Charlie has lived with us, Matt is going away on business. For a week. How on Earth will Charlie survive?

Rumor has it, Charlie has plans. Like sitting on the couch. And sleeping in a human bed. And eating lots of cat food. Maybe even pooping on the laundry pile.

Matt’s eyes turned red when I disclosed Charlie’s itinerary.

“That’s my greatest fear! That you will undo all my hard work and training!” he accused.

The truth is it would be a lot more trouble to let Charlie run wild, than to continue with his training. He craves discipline, and is eager to please. And who can resist the wiggly puppy dance from a dog who just mastered “sit” for like the hundredth time?

Certainly, not me!

I imagine I may allow a short nap on my belly, and perhaps some surprise table scraps, but I’m expecting nothing out of the ordinary.

Since buying separate dog beds for Charlie and Lex, they both sleep comfortably on the floor next to us at night. We’ve fallen into an easy routine, with the dogs sleeping in their beds (with a few choice squeaky toys for cuddling, of course!) until morning. Then I usually get Charlie out in the yard for his morning potty. I learned a lesson by opting to change some laundry first thing the other morning, and Charlie trotted down and proceeded to pee all over the blanket at my feet.

Well, it was in a pile waiting to get cleaned anyway. Sigh.

The point is, I feel I have things under control. The only thing I’m really concerned about is the time when I go to work. We’ve successfuly left Charlie and Lex alone for a few hours, but nothing like 10 hours straight. I’m concerned he will miss me, or his buddy Matt. I really hope he won’t cry. Charlie, that is.

Dog days of summer

So Matt is leaving for a week, and the heat wave is in full blast. Like much of the nation, we have had countless days in a row of 100-plus degree weather. To help keep us cool, we bought a wading pool at PetSmart. It even comes with decorative bones instead of fish. Ya know, because dogs can tell the difference.

I couldn’t wait to get home, and actually called dibs on filling the pool with water. My eyes glazed over as I imagined Lex and Charlie diving in, frolicking in the water. As soon as the water filled up close to the rim, I called Charlie over. He sniffed at the pool, then backed away. Matt scooped him up and placed him in the water, sure he would bounce around. Instead, he promptly hopped out and rolled in some sun-burned grass.

Lex walked toward the pool. She really surveyed the situation. I was hopeful. She took a step right to the side of the pool, lowered her head, and took in a long slurp of water.

Lex had just discovered the largest water bowl in Detroit.

What? This is supposed to keep me cool? Slurp-slurp. Ya know, you’re right!