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Laddie's World
Reflections of Puppyhood
THE BEGINNING
   I suppose its best to start where it all began.
    I was born into a litter of seven puppies that April morning with three brothers and three sisters. I can remember being cuddled and touched by something big and so warm. Later I would recognize it as my mother but in the beginning all I understood was that it was warm and it had food. A short time later I became aware that there were other smaller, warm squirming things as well with me and the big warm shape. Yes, these were my siblings.
   In the first few days, there was little to know except where to find the food and the feeling of warm and cold. Warm came from being together with the others and cold came from not. I learned to feel how I could make little movements to other parts of my tiny body and I learned that the little rumbly feelings in my belly meant it was time to eat. I could feel something soft under me and when I wiggled it seemed to move too. For the most part my first few days were made up of alternating between eating, sleeping and little squirms. Our mother rubbed against us often with something warm and damp and though sometimes it moved me about, it felt good and often made me go to sleep.
   Soon, my nose began to understand that there was meaning to the things that I was breathing in and it wasn't long until I was able to find my food and where it came from by using my nose. I learned to know my siblings by smelling and soon I was surprised to find that there were sounds beginning to fill my head. The muffled whimpering of my siblings, the crooning of my mother as she cleaned us, my own little voice crying out when I was in need of something and other noises that sometimes I seemed to feel at the same time... these were the things that defined my little world until one day, there was a change. Up until now, my eyes were closed and only knew that sometimes it was dark and sometimes it was bright, but one day it seemed that the brightness was a little brighter and occasionally something passed darkly before me. I quickly began to realize that sometimes when my mother or siblings moved away from me it was usually with that momentary passing of something dark and that meant that some of these passing shapes were my family. As the days passed and the shapes began to define themselves I found that my family were all very much alike. They all had ears, noses, mouths and soft fuzzy fur on their bodies. Our mother had all these same things but hers were different so I assumed that since my brothers and sisters all looked very much alike that I must look like them too.
   What a change I found my world after my eyes opened! There was so much more to know and learn than I ever imagined possible! With my legs gaining strength every day I could explore the box that we lived in and follow my siblings in our ramblings. For many days we worked our way to every corner of our home until we discovered that one side seemed to be a bit lower than the others. It would be nearly a week before we were strong enough to stand on our hind legs and another few days before we figured out how to push ourselves up. The day I pushed extra hard I was surprised to suddenly find myself falling head over heels down the other side of the wall and hit something harder than my cozy bed. I was so shocked to find myself in such a predicament that it never occurred to me to turn around and try to get back in my bed. I began to cry by the change in my surroundings until I felt something warm take a gentle hold of me. My body was lifted off the ground like my mother had occasionally done but it was different somehow . Instead of gripping me firmly by the back of my neck it seemed to encircle my entire body gently and securely. I was raised higher than I had ever been before and turned to be placed against something warm without fur. There was a soft sound from above my head  and I looked up. Than I saw something that I had never seen before.....


WE'RE NOT ALONE
   It was difficult at first to know what to do when I realized that what I was looking at was indeed alive. There was an incredible urge to struggle for freedom  but it held me so tenderly and the sounds that came from it were really very curious. It didn't seem to wish me any harm so I raised my little nose higher and sniffed. The smell was initially overwhelming but I recognized it for my mother often had that very scent on her after she returned from her brief outings. Our home also had that same scent though it was much fainter. My nose shifted toward a soft breeze that tickled my ears and I closed my eyes when it went across them. I leaned into the breeze and suddenly it stopped as a sound came from the thing that held me. I looked at what was obviously the mouth since it was open wide and I began to understand that this was in some ways no different than me. Although its face was much flatter than mine, it had a mouth that could make sounds, there was a nose that didn't stick out quite so far and it even had two eyes. There was a type of fur that seemed to go around the head but not on the front. It was dark and seemed shiny. Altogether it created a pleasant picture.
   How amazing this was! To know that there were other living things out there besides us. It lowered itself to the floor still holding me and my mother came over and began to lick my face with little whimpers. My brothers and sisters joined us and the it touched each one in turn. This was the first human we had ever seen. 'It' was a she and she was called my "breeder". I now know that breeder means someone who plans the mating of two animals. Sometimes they plan a breeding with a dog that lives far away and those puppies never get to meet their father. I was lucky enough to have a breeder that owned both of my parents.
   Many other humans came to see us after that every day. Occasionally the only human we would see was our breeder but there were days when it seemed that there was an endless parade of people coming to see us and play with us. The little humans have always been my favorite. Even then there was just something about them that seemed to say these are special humans. They love to play almost as much as puppies do and they move about as free as birds. They are so happy and even when they aren't it only takes a lick or two on their faces and they smile again. It didn't take long to learn that they were easier to please than anyone else. All a puppy had to do was look at them, give a collie smile and wag their tail. Some times they brought toys to share with us and sometimes they brought yummy treats. Some times they ran about with us chasing them and sometimes they sat quietly and petted our bellies. It was wonderful to have them visit.
   Now, for the first month, all of these wonderful things took place in our room, until one day our breeder opened the door and called to us, "Puppy, puppy, puppies!" This was her special call that meant fun and food was coming, but she did not come to us. Instead, she turned and walked out of the room leaving the door open. Mom ran right out but we hesitated. What was out there? Was it safe? It must be for mom was very happy to go. We walked slowly over to the door and peered out. It was another room! Different from ours, there was a whole lot more to look at and sniff so we all began to explore this new place. The floor was a bit slippery at first but we found lots of treats as we moved about awkwardly so we kept trying and it wasn't long before we learned how to even run on this smooth floor. Stopping wasn't always very graceful however. It wasn't long before we discovered another doorway but this one did not have a door in it to block our path. It had a low see-through wall that mom could jump easily and on the other side of that wall was even more stuff to explore. We cried at first that we couldn't go with our mom to see the new room but our breeder came in with some toys and played with us until one by one we headed sleepily back to our own room and bed to take a long nap.
   Every morning, from that point on, our breeder opened the door and let us play in what I now know is a kitchen as well as our bedroom. It was good to have more space to stretch one's legs in.
   Then one day, a new door was opened to us and our world changed even more.....


A WHOLE NEW WORLD
   When we ran through the door we thought it would be no different than the room we had been playing in. How wrong we were! The light blinded us momentarily and then suddenly an endless sea of ground opened before us. There were no walls as we were familiar with and it seemed that there was no ceiling above our heads. Bravely we stepped forward and what a delight we found waiting for us! The ground was covered in lush, sweet smelling grass and I will be the first to admit that I tasted just a little to much of it that first day out. There was dirt to dig in, puddles to splash in, things that moved over our heads to watch and bark at and so much room to run. It seemed to take forever before we finally reached the ends of our new playground and discovered what a fence was. What fun we had! Sometimes we lay quietly on our backs and looked at the fluffy clouds drifting by and other times we crawled on our bellies pretending we were mighty hunters stalking our quarry, the ever enigmatic and elusive ant. We tried to hide in the short grass and pounce on each other and we often came in very nearly soaked after playing in our water bowl. Once again our limited perception of what could be kept us from ever conceiving the notion that there were even more surprises in store for us. One day as we played in our yard, we began to hear a strange sound. It was as if something was calling in protest but I did not recognize what it could possibly be coming from. As the call grew louder my brothers and sisters seemed to be drawn to the sound and they moved several steps in the direction that it came from. After another moment we saw a block of white move toward us and within another few moments we realized that it was not one large white thing but several smaller white things bunched together. As these strange new creatures began to trot along on the other side of our fence my siblings all moved forward with intense eagerness. They whined in their excitement at seeing these things and several began to run with short bursts back and forth along the fence. As the white things drew up to where we stood, there was the sharp cutting of our breeder's whistle and suddenly from the other side of the sheep an animal looking very much like my mother raced to the front of the animals. It barked several times as it crouched and dived, recovered and whirled looking for all the world as if it was playing some strange game with these woolly things. The beasts came to a stop beside the fence and my family sniffed at them with some strange sense of urgency. I sniffed at them to but could not figure why they were so fascinating to my brothers and sisters. I was more enthralled by the actions of the animal that so much resembled my mother. I watched him intently as he paced casually some number of feet back from the herd. His head was held high as he kept a close eye on the animals and his tail flayed out behind him like a flag. He was so alert, so controlled in his every movement, so dignified and graceful... he was beautiful! He was something great and while I was very attached to my mother there seemed to be something that drew me to him. I held my head as high as I could, stood straight and proud and hoped that he would notice me. But he didn't seem to care that we puppies were there. Once, the animals tried to surge forward but with a little leap forward and towards their leader the dog held them at bay. Our breeder finally reached us all and as the sheep surrounded her she spoke once in a firm tone. The strange dog lay down in the grass and by chance it happened to be by where I stood. I kept my stance for a moment before I could stand it no longer and dipped my head so my nose poked ever so slightly through the fence. The big dog looked at me and after a moment of hesitation he reached his head out. Our noses touched and for the briefest of moments we sniffed each other until there was a sharp word from our breeder and the dog quickly turned his attention back to the fluffy things. I lay down after that and watched his every move even until he and the woolly things disappeared behind some bushes when they left. My brothers and sisters went back to their games but I remained where I lay, watching and waiting, hoping he would come back and all the while pondering what I had seen. I knew he was the same as my mother but different in some subtle ways. He was much larger and his coat heavier. His face was longer and seemed a bit more square than my mother's soft rounded face. His legs were thicker, shoulders larger and there was a strength to his entire body that was beyond my mother. He looked like a leader, self assured and confident. I could hardly understand how I knew but in my mind I was sure that this dog was to respected and obeyed. I well remembered these things when we met him the next day.....

 

A MATTER OF MANNERS

After we all went outside the next day to play, we quickly discovered that our mother was not with us this time as she usually had been. We noted too, that the door to the house was closed. We couldn't understand why, but we spent little time worrying over these strange occurrences. After all, our mother had left us many times for short periods when we were in the house and she always came back so we just assumed she would return as always in a little bit. We started playing as we usually did, consumed with every detail of the games as we usually were, and when exactly the first dog came to the other side of our fence we couldn't say. It was quite a surprise though to look up and suddenly see it there standing and sniffing in our direction. It didn't take us long to go over and investigate. We were all able to touch the stranger's nose through the fence and with tails awag we barked our puppy invitations to play. Suddenly, as if by magic, another new dog trotted over to the fence to see us. Once we had met this dog there came another and then another and yet another! By the time the dogs had stopped appearing there more of them than there was of us puppies! They were many different shades of light and dark but they all clearly resembled our own mother. Everyone was friendly and eager and after some time spent sniffing, our breeder came over to the fence and opened a section of it up. It wasn't a complete door, but more of a small section that just raised off the ground. The space it left was large enough for two puppies to squeeze through at a time but not large enough for the bigger dogs to get through. One by one my siblings and I went up to the gate and began to go to the other side. The larger dogs seemed thrilled to have us visiting them and they quickly came to mill around us sniffing and licking and circling. It was a little overwhelming at first and one of my sisters decided to go back to our play area for a little bit, but after she saw the rest us were not going to follow and were doing fine, she slowly came back to the big dog's side. Some of us began to play chase games with the big dogs and some of us tried to jump up on them and grab their tails with our sharp puppy teeth. Sometimes the big dogs didn't like our games. They would tell us by walking away and refusing to play or sometimes they would bark gruffly once or twice. My siblings and I knew these meant to stop our behavior because we already did these same things when we played, but we quickly learned that there were other ways to tell another that something wasn't "okay".  It happened when the biggest dog of all was let into the yard by our breeder. It was the same dog I had seen the day before, but today there was no rush to his movements. He walked in slowly but it was not in hesitance. It was more of a regal, easy stride. The other big dogs stopped their games with us and they all quickly ran to welcome the newcomer but they seemed to act very different from they way they greeted us. Many of them whined with slightly lowered heads as their likewise lowered tails wagged briskly to and fro. They licked at his face and none went round to sniff at his backside as they had so eagerly done to us. In return the big dog sniffed back and wagged his raised tail gently and there were even a few that he went so far as to sniff their under bellies. One of the dogs he did this to lay down and rolled over onto its back. At first it seemed so strange to me and it even made some of us a little unsure, but as the greeting died down and the big dogs went back to their things some of my siblings decided to investigate the new dog. The boldest of my brothers gathered his courage and ran up to the new dog full of self assurance. The big dog lowered his head to sniff noses which my brother did indeed do but he quickly tried to go between the big dog's legs to sniff his belly. The dog sidestepped my brother and set his head straight with a soft glare. My brother continued to trying to sniff the big dog where he obviously did not want him to go. With more sidestepping, the big dog gave a firm bark. It was deep and commanding.  But my brother was a bold one and being larger than the rest of us he had learned how to use that size to take charge of our little puppy pack. He never backed down from any of us unless we announced that he had hurt us during a game or rough play and with the easy manner of the other big dogs, it was no wonder that he didn't take the warning for what it was. He seemed to assume that the big dog's sidestepping was an attempt to retreat from his "I'm in charge" advances. The big dog than began to growl. We knew what growls were. We used them during our own play and little arguments. My brother, being the leader he thought he was, began to growl back but it could not even come close to the intensity that the big dog displayed. When my brother still continued to try to get his way as he growled with puppyish fervor, the big dog drew back his lips and displayed his teeth in a way we had never seen before. At this my brother and very nearly every other dog and puppy paused. For a moment my brother stood indecisive. He  to take a quick glance around in wonder at every one and after a long moment he took a step back and away from the big dog and sat. He wagged his tail at the other dog and waited. The big dog put his lips down and stopped growling as he stepped forward and gave my brother another nose to nose sniff. He gave a snort afterward and then walked away. My brother watched him for a moment, before he seemed to become distracted by a leaf fluttering by and bounced away. The tense situation over, the other big dogs went back to doing their own things. It amazed how he seemed so in control. Yesterday it was the white, wooly sheep... Today it was with the other dogs... What else was there to know about this dog so obviously respected by all others? I would soon find out for as he made his way through greeting the other puppies, he turned and headed towards me...