Watching the various personalities of the Future Leader Dogs at our recent puppy outing at Rochester's Fire Station #1 last week reminded me of the differences between Rosie (my first Leader Dog puppy, now career-changed) and Mike (my current FLD).
This picture of Rosie and Mike the day Rosie came home from Leader Dogs after being career-changed, depicts their contrasting demeanour. Rosie is edgy, ready to leap up--notice the tautness in her legs, her whole body seems to be trembling. Mike, on the other hand, is relaxed, almost subdued, content to wait to see what happens next.
My always-supportive hubby, Andy, takes the dogs out one at a time first thing in the morning so I can linger in bed a bit longer. We live in a townhouse without a backyard, so this means he walks the dogs on a leash around our common area and picks up after them. A good habit to have as we never develop an overwhelming clean-up task. Afterwards, the fun starts!
Mike plods upstairs and peeks his head around our bedroom door to check if I'm awake. If I am, he meanders in for a butt-rub. If I'm sleeping (or pretending to be asleep), he sneaks away looking for trouble.
Rosie bounded up the stairs, raced into our bedroom, hit the rug at the side of the bed, her paws frantically trying to gain purchase as the rug slid on the slippery hardwood floor. She smashed into the nightstand, occasionally recovering enough to leap up and over my head, jumping off the other side of the bed and back around, begging to be scratched and petted, wiggling over onto her back to get her belly rubbed. If I wasn't awake before these shenanigans, I surely was after!
My dog Gypsy, and each FLD, know they have to SIT and WAIT for the OK to eat. I feed Gypsy, a much slower eater, first. (That's Rosie in the picture to the right, eyes zeroed in on the food bowl.)
Mike waits patiently, sometimes even dropping to a DOWN in the hopes that he'll be released sooner. Rosie scampered about in little circles before finally settling down to a SIT.
Mike runs to his bowl to eat earnestly, savoring every bite. Rosie bolted to her bowl to inhale her food.
Mike finishes before Gypsy, just barely. Rosie ALWAYS beat Gypsy. Both lurk behind Gypsy until she finishes, then get to work sanitizing her bowl, just in case she missed a morsel.
After breakfast, FLD Mike is happy to curl up over the register for a nap. On Sundays, when Andy and I take him with us for our breakfast at Yorgo's, we just go.
After breakfast, CC'd Rosie was ready to rock and roll. In self-defense on Sundays (before heading to Yorgo's), I walked Rosie the one mile down to Gratiot to tire her out a little (remember, a tired puppy is a good puppy). Here Andy would meet us with the van to drive the rest of the way.
Heeling without pulling the leash is one of the most important skills we puppy-raisers must teach our Future Leader Dogs. We are instructed to walk backwards immediately whenever we feel tension on the leash. The dog instinctively wants to go forward; the dog learns that he/she cannot advance unless the leash is loose.
The slower I walk Mike in a heel, the easier he plods at my side. As we pick up the pace he trots ahead to the end of the leash, but backs off as soon as he feels tension. Andy enjoys walking Gypsy with me and FLD Mike.
When Rosie was first learning to heel, she'd lag behind, plant her front paws out stiff-legged, bow her head, and refuse to move. Lots of coaxing would get her to follow but then she'd rush ahead, practically yanking my arm from its socket! Eventually she improved, but I was always on alert, quick to take steps backwards. Andy avoided walking with me and Rosie--he dislike waiting as we backwards walked.
The picture on the right is Andy walking Rosie (on a very nice loose leash) at a FLD puppy outing on the boardwalk in downtown Mt. Clemens.
SIT is the first command we puppy-raisers teach our Future Leader Dog puppies, beginning at meal-time the very first day they come home with us. It's never too early to start, and they learn quickly.
SIT. Mike's head cocks, as if he is spelling "S...I...T" to himself to make sure he understands the command. His butt eases to the floor, frequently sliding on to a DOWN.
The picture on the left is of FLD Mike in a SIT while riding in the van.
SIT. Rosie sits. Her butt pops up, ready for the next command.
FLD Mike is a very laid-back puppy, although he does have his moments of "puppy rips." Rosie was always raring to go. Despite their differences, both Mike and Rosie are happy, eager to please, and intelligent black labs. It's been a pleasure raising them!