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Thursday, February 12, 2009
Sookie Blog: Vampire dog

By Angie Thompson
Special to ESPNOutdoors.com

Archive: Meet Sookie | Crates

The last time we got together I couldn't decide whether to talk about crates or teeth. Now, that's an opening line, isn't it? But when you have a lab puppy at home your world can be consumed with odd things you never thought much of before. In our house, it's crate training and teeth.
You see we have brought home a vampire dog. Sookie lives to munch on human flesh, or so it seems. She has these tiny, very sharp teeth protruding from healthy pink gums that she is intent on using to draw out shrieks and yelps from her humans. She's especially fixated on fingers and toes. And the toe thing can really get to you because it's almost always a surprise when the nip comes.

I'm the kind of person who thinks I can figure anything out by research. When faced with a challenge I head to the internet or the book store. And since the world revolves around this dog right now, the terms "puppy" and "teeth" have been slammed into Google a lot lately. I've learned a lot.

While adult dogs have 42 teeth, most puppies come with 28. Those 28 ivories are deciduous, meaning the doggie tooth fairy will take them in the next few months and replace them with permanent teeth. If the last few weeks are any indication, the coming months of teething and chewing are going to be rough.

Here's the breakdown on dog teeth — incisors (in the front) for nibbling, canines (fangs) for grabbing and puncturing, premolars for tearing, and molars for crushing bone.

Here's the scary part ... puppy teeth don't include molars ... the big teeth way in the back that are used for crushing bones. These are obviously big strong teeth and I expect their eruption to be a long process. I dread that.

Here's another interesting tidbit. Have you ever wondered why mammals have two sets of teeth (baby teeth and permanent teeth)? Fish and reptiles grow and replace teeth many times during their life cycles, but we mammals just go through two sets.

No one knows for sure, but it is maintained by people who study these kinds of things that baby teeth are needed because the jawbone grows so much during the first phase of life in mammals. So we need time for that jaw to grow before all of the adult teeth can take up permanent residence.

The cusps of our teeth (and dogs) fit together between the upper jaw and lower jaw in a complex pattern that dentists call occlusion. If we kept growing new sets of teeth throughout our life cycle, there would be a higher chance of malocclusion where the upper and lower jaws didn't line up quite right and the result might be that we couldn't chew food properly. No one wants that ... especially a lab who is essentially a stomach with four legs.

We've all heard the horror stories about labs wreaking havoc on a household through chewing. I'm determined that this good brown dog is not going to tear the house down. But I realize it's up to me and me alone to make sure that doesn't happen.

My strategy is to keep her away from things she shouldn't chew by diverting her as I mentioned above, but even more important — I am going to do my dead level best to not leave her alone for very long to give her the opportunity to chew the legs off the table. And I talked to someone just a few days ago who had a dog that did that very deed. Can you imagine?

As an aside, I just want to make it crystal clear that Sookie makes up for almost anything annoying by generally being cute and doing adorable things. Like cleaning out the dishwasher door.

In addition to chewing fingers, hands and toes, Sookie is fascinated by shoes. I think it's the smell. In my experience, dogs like stinky things. I'm starting early in my efforts to divert her attention from things she shouldn't be chewing. I've already spent a lot of coin on rawhides, chewies and toys.

The moment Sookie starts mouthing something she shouldn't, I take it from her and replace it with something she's encouraged to munch down on. It's working out pretty well for the moment, but the shoe leather we're saving is being taken out on my hands, which are covered in nicks and nips.

Every experience in Sookie's world seems to be better if there is something in her mouth. Even as a very young puppy she has a innate need to carry things in her mouth. As a dog bred for retrieving that makes sense to me, so I empathize with her when she prances through the house carrying a tennis shoe in her mouth while wearing an expression on her face like she has struck gold in California. The good thing is she doesn't seem to hold it against me when I replace the shoe with a rawhide.

That's one of the best things about labs. They forgive you even when you call them names. Like vampire dog.