Image left: Beginnings…I think Lyko’s the little guy serving as a pillow here. These babies are only a couple of weeks old.
Lyko, the seven-month-old Malamute puppy whose human pack we are part of, and who we dog-sit every now and again, is showing every sign of becoming quite a big boy.
Already I can pat him without bending over. His body has gotten long and lean, and his legs make him look every bit the gangly adolescent that he’s become.
He’s also growing into his adult strength (as you likely know, Malamutes are strong dogs, bred to pull heavy loads), and when you combine that with typical canine adolescent exuberance, well, DB and I — old folks that we are — have some trouble keeping up.
Lyko’s human parents, our Second Son and his wife, run Lyko hard almost every day, so they don’t usually have that problem. But we can’t run him. We can’t walk him fast enough to meet his needs. And although we have a large back yard for the neighbour-hood we’re in, it’s nothing to a dog who can cover it from one end to the other in a few long strides.
Short of hitching Lyko to a wagon carrying a 200-lb. weight and having him pull it around town, we’ve been stuck lately for ways to exercise that muscular body enough to keep him happy.
Here’s what happens when a strong, agile adolescent dog doesn’t get the exercise and stimulation he needs:
Remember the little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead? When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was HORRID?
Well, that’s our boy Lyko, to a “T.”
Normally, Lyko is a quiet, sweet-tempered, obedient (for a Malamute) boy who’s calm and laid-back and will do pretty much whatever you want (especially if there’s a kibble waiting at the end. One single, solitary kibble will do the trick, and he’ll perform instantly and endlessly as long as he gets that one kibble each time. It’s the perfect reward for completely food-motivated animals, which Mals appear to be. However, all bets are off if there’s no kibble in your hand; Mals are nothing if not independent.)
However, if for some reason he doesn’t get as much exercise and stimulation as his growing, highly-muscled body and his quick, intelligent mind need, his energy level quickly rises to near the Red Zone. And then, folks, it’s Look Out! All Hands on Deck!
Destruction is about to strike.
Image right: Baby Lyko, about 3 1/2 months old here.
In a trice, Laid-Back Lyko can morph into Hyper Lyko, completely ignoring all of his legal and normally enjoyable toys and various bones, instead grabbing socks, slippers, wastebasket contents and just about anything he knows he’s not supposed to chew.
The game becomes even more fun if he can get someone to leap up and chase him, usually yelling, “Lyko, no!” and “Lyko, drop.” Sometimes, to vary the fun, he’ll drop the offending item to the floor, and just as you reach to retrieve it, he’ll snatch it up at the last second and run off again.
Finally you manage to wrench it out of his mouth, he having conveniently forgotten what the word “drop” means. That usually means he’s tired of the game. Relieved, you draw a deep breath and then sit down or go off to do whatever you were doing before the excitement started.
Within seconds, you hear the sound of something falling to the floor, or being dragged…or chewed. Lyko, you discover, has reared up on his hind legs in the kitchen and is scouring the counters for interesting goodies.
At this moment in his life’s journey, Lyko is primarily a mouth and teeth connected to a seemingly unquenchable appetite.
He’s now tall enough that as soon as our backs are turned, not only can he swipe things off the front edges of the counters, but he can now gather up forbidden goodies from the very back of the counters, right up against the wall. He also check the sinks to see if any edible items have accidentally fallen into it, or there are any plates that require a good licking.
If there’s nothing edible in the kitchen, then there’s always the dining room table, with the basket of fruit that I’ve forgotten to put out of sight and reach. Or the shelf with the tantalizing basket of dried seed pods. Tomatoes, apples, bananas, gum wrappers, plastic wrappers, anything with a shape or feel that he likes, Lyko has discovered a taste for it.
If he can manage to get it into his mouth, it’s fair game. Candles, toilet paper rolls, bars of soap, garbage, flowers, (and one night at 3:00 a.m., half a pound of butter; at least he didn’t eat the bowl) have all disappeared down that insatiable gullet at least once.
Second Son and his puppy Lyko at about 4 months
Putting him outdoors into the fenced back yard usually works, but only for brief periods of time. Lyko can run like the wind, and this allows him to tear around the yard like some kind of canine dervish, before settling into the bushes to furiously dig out a few roots and have a little chew.
He wants so desperately to play that if you happen to walk out into the back yard, he jumps you in an obvious effort to entice you into a little doggie fun. However, since even play biting is off limits with us humans, we’re disappointingly unfun to be around.
Solution: This boy needs the company of his own kind.
So when Lyko comes to us for longer than a day and his energy is running high [usual symptoms of which are: restlessness, boredom, lack of interest in his usual toys, all leading to: LOOK OUT—DESTRUCTION!], on those days, we’ve learned to just pop him into the car and drive him over to enjoy a visit to doggie day care.
When he sees where we’re going, Lyko can’t wait to get out of the car and in their front door. There he can play and chase and socialize with dogs his own size, cavort in the wading pool to his heart’s content, and climb up and down doggie ladders all day long. When we go to pick him up at the end of the day, he’s tired, gentle as a lamb, and utterly, completely content. You can see the smile.
Lyko is a sweet, lovable animal who’s always up for a cuddle or belly rub. He loves to be around his people. He just happens to need a bit more maintenance than some other breeds–and a little more time to grow up.
While that’s happening, doggie day care is the ideal solution to what could otherwise become a huge obedience problem caused, not because he happens to be a “bad” dog, but because his is a breed of dog that needs a particular lifestyle, one which includes large amounts of physical exercise–especially during his first few years of life.
We in Lyko’s forever family are people who love Malamutes in general and him in particular, and are willing to put in the time and effort involved in training a big, strong, independent-minded animal so that he will be comfortable to have around friends, family, strangers, and other dogs.
There’s no denying that it’s a bit of work right now for DB and me (not to even mention what it must be like for Second Son and his wife!), and it has to be reinforced every day; but we know that it will pay off in a polite, social animal that we’re proud to call our “doggie grandson.” We can already see it coming, once his hormone levels settle down.
DB and I had some idea of what to expect when we agreed to help out with the new Malamute puppy when we were needed, but many potential dog owners have no idea what is involved in pet ownership. There’s so much literature on the internet about raising animals of all kinds that it seems to me there’s no excuse for ignorance any more.
There is especially no excuse for not knowing how to raise and properly train a large or strong-willed dog.
If you happen to be planning to adopt a large breed of dog, please research thoroughly the traits of the different breeds to make sure that the breed you choose will fit your lifestyle–or that your lifestyle, like ours, can easily be shifted a bit here and there to accommodate the individual needs of your canine companion.
Animals aren’t live dolls. They have minds of their own, and they experience their world in an entirely different way from us humans. If we want our animal companions to live comfortably in our world and in our family, then it’s up to us to let them know what we expect of them, and to remind them when necessary.
Taking (a) the time to choose an animal that fits our particular lifestyle and (b) the trouble to train that animal (especially if it’s a large breed) could potentially reduce the large number of former pets being dumped at animal rescue centres because of so-called “behavioural” problems — or lessen the number of forlorn, abused animals who suffer at the hands of owners who no longer want them once they’ve grown beyond their baby cuteness and begun having minds of their own.
Yes, growing baby animals and training them to be responsible adults can be time- consuming and sometimes just plain hard work. But if we put in the effort required to raise and train that adorable puppy right from the start, then before we know it, every time we look at our sweet, well-trained and loving adult dog, we’ll see before our eyes proof that it was so very much worth the effort.
Lyko’s still a growing boy — a typical rambunctious adolescent Malamute — but already, when his few most urgent needs are met, he’s a loving, well-behaved and much-loved animal companion, and he’ll just keep getting better with age.
Lyko, about 5 months old, relaxing on our three-person sofa. He’s bigger than that now.
P.S. In case I haven’t mentioned it, Lyko is the Greek word for wolf. I think it’s pretty apt.