It has been too long since we’ve enjoyed a mob of puppies, but now Junebug’s litter of five keeps us busy with feeding, cleaning, playing, teaching and safeguarding. Not just safeguarding the youngsters from harm, but also protecting everything they would otherwise trample or gnaw or, in the case of the other dogs, harass.
While the pups are growing like weeds, the weeds are growing like puppies, and although our garden boasts dog-proof fencing, it apparently isn’t puppy-proof. When I shut the gate in their bright little faces to do some hoeing, moments later the three smaller ones, Drumlin, Moulin and Tilly, were scampering through the broccoli. I coaxed, pushed and packed them out and scattered kibble to distract them while I sneaked back to the greenery.
Soon all five were playing tag in the spinach and getting stuck behind pea fences. I gave up on the hoeing and took them for a walk instead: across the lawn, through the horse corral above the garden and into the big dark woods beyond. They found the corral delightful, the woods strange and intimidating. The next day our puppy walk took us below the garden and into the big dark woods from a new angle. This time all five toddled ahead so fast they disappeared out the trail ahead of me. Esker rejoined me fairly quickly, but the others explored independently for several minutes before returning.
Drumlin, the enigma, is usually the odd fellow of the bunch; he sometimes beds down to nap before the others, or stays up late to play after his mates hit the sack. While the other four wrestle he often toddles off on his own agenda. He acts either excessively brave or oddly timid with the big dogs in the yard. While he expresses delight when I approach, his joyful greeting only lasts a few seconds before he pursues some other distraction. When I pulled him onto my lap he used to freeze with anxiety, only to brighten and snuffle and cover me with soft little kisses at my cooing. As he grows, so does his affection, and he’s typically out in front when the pups hear me calling and come thundering over.
Tilly, the only female, makes up for her small size with an exuberant character, defending herself ferociously when her brothers pile on top of her. Tilly is the pup most eager to climbs into my lap to snuggle. Although cowed when approached by innocent adult dogs, she growls determinedly if cornered. When the big dogs lie down to invite play, she and Drumlin are the ones to pile aboard, chewing ears and pulling tails.
Moulin has been more accident prone. Twice I investigated a dismal puppy wail in the dog yard and discovered him wedged underneath his mom’s doghouse, unable to writhe free. One damp chilly morning I heard him howling desolately and found him all alone in his favorite cubby, while the other pups snuggled happily in with Junebug. The little white puppy growled bravely when I approached, only to throw himself into my arms after recognizing me. On another occasion his littermates piled on top of him while one leg was projecting through the chain-link kennel fence, twisting his wrist enough to scare him without doing any damage.
Moulin took the lead in bravely approaching a strange dog, yet was more fearful than the others when socialized through the fence by a group of visiting children. When hardly eight weeks old, he once was so overjoyed to see me that he rose up on his hind legs and twirled around like an athlete, his dark eyes shining with character and affection.
Esker, big and a little clunky, is more consistently brave, often in the lead and most likely to follow the grown-up dogs as they make the rounds in the yard. Affectionate and easy-going, he and Moulin are often right behind Tilly in climbing onto laps, and ahead of her in climbing the porch steps.
Moraine, like Esker, is big and steady, but mouthier than the others. All puppies chew, but Moraine constantly chews my cuffs, nibbles my fingers, snips my braid or gnaws on my shoes. Once when cheese was involved he drew blood.
“Mo’ rain,” I whisper as we snuggle. “‘Cuz it didn’t rain enough last time!”
Although affectionate and enthusiastic, these pups are a bit skittish and unpredictable. Sometimes they behave almost recklessly, marching right up to socialize with the big dogs, but an hour later they run whimpering for cover if a chain rattles or a dog woofs.
Housedog Ellie doesn’t help the matter, having grown old enough to be less tolerant of mobbing little rascals. The first time four of the five pups followed me up the front steps and into the house, Ellie took refuge on the sofa. Eventually they began to crowd her, and before I could intervene she gave a snapping bark to make her objections perfectly clear.
Screaming in terror, the pups scattered to the four corners of the house. Moraine disappeared under the desk, Esker under the stairs, Moulin and Tilly behind the stove. After banning Ellie to the bedroom with some kibble, I coaxed the pups out for some treats and happy play to dispel any negative associations with the house. The next day they followed me inside again, albeit more timidly, but settled in happily after making a big dent in the cheese that I handed out in thumbnail-sized bites. (That’s when Moraine punctured my finger.)
Soon they’ll be big enough for longer puppy walks and tougher lessons — you can’t walk on water, and if you go down the steep hill you must claw your way back up. By snowfall they’ll be running behind the dogsled, and perhaps around Christmas they’ll learn to work in harness — not a moment too soon, with half of our working sled dogs nearing retirement. But for now, they are simply puppies, learning, growing, having fun and entertaining us as well.
Trappers and lifelong Bush residents Miki and Julie Collins have written three books. They live in Lake Minchumina.