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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When a Tired Puppy Finds Himself Stuck

After a long day of hikes in the woods of northern Michigan, FLD Mike is one pooped pup.  He wanders around the cabin looking for something soft to lie on.  There isn't much available on the hardwood floor, just a variety of rugs.

Gypsy is nestled on one of the couches, but we don't allow FLD Mike onto the furniture.  He doesn't seem to mind, but a cushy spot is always a lure.  On the drive back to the cabin from Alcona Park, where Andy had been fishing while I played with the dogs, FLD Mike tried to get comfortable on the van's emergency tool bag.  He settled for a perch on Andy's life-vest.

I feel sorry for the tired pup, so I toss one of the pillows from the day-bed onto the floor.  FLD Mike quickly takes advantage and curls his 50+ pound black lab body on top of it, with some success.  His eyelids can't stay open any longer.

Sometime later he rustles in his dreaming; FLD Mike was now stretched out over the pillow in an awkward position on his back.  He wiggles, and slides off the pillow to end up partially under the day-bed.  He keeps sleeping.

Andy and I relax with a Netflix movie, homemade brownies, and a bottle of Piesporter.  I hear a thumping noise coming from FLD Mike's direction.  I peek over the coffee table and there's Mike, wedged under the day-bed on his belly, his head and front paws sticking out from beneath the quilte that covered it.

What's the matter, Mike? I ask, stifling a giggle.  He tries to scoot himself out, but is only able to lift his head a few inches.  The rest of him is stuck tight.  He drops his chin to the floor and looks up at me with the crescent-moon-whites of his eyes underlining his dilemma.  I am surprised he doesn't whine or bark in frustration.

I have to get a picture of this, I say to Andy and jump up to get my camera from the kitchen table.

I think that FLD Mike knows when I am about to take an incriminating photo of him.  As I walk away from him, instead of coming to his rescue, he takes it upon himself to get out of this predicament.  I hear his struggle as I grab my camera, fearful I will miss my shot.  He just might be strong enough to lift the entire day-bed if he tries to stand up, I think.  I hustle back, switch on my camera, and swing it up to my eye.  In time!

FLD Mike somehow gyrates himself back over onto his side, which leaves him breathing room between the day-bed and the floor.  He scrabbles, and stretches, and scrabbles, and cranes his neck and head to at last pull himself free.

Unfettered, FLD Mike calmly plops himself back onto the pillow and falls back to sleep.  Nothing seems to bother this pup!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: Dealing with Natural Distractions

At nine months old, after two puppy classes at Leader Dogs for the Blind, FLD Mike has been taught many of the commands that he must know before returning to the school for his formal training, including: heel, sit, down, stand, stay, come, around, give, take, right, left, mat, leave it, and park.  For the most part, FLD Mike performs these consistently in a variety of settings.  However, add some big distractions (like dogs or kids), and "the captain has left the wheelhouse," to quote from John Grogan's famous book, Marley and MeFLD Mike quickly forgets how to heel on a loose leash, sit or lie down, and forget about getting him to "come"--it's as if he's never learned any of these commands.  If you've ever trained one of these loveable Labs, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about!

Our daily walks offer excellent opportunities for me to address FLD Mike's distraction issues.  When we come across a situation, I use techniques from our puppy class to regain FLD Mike's attention and help him learn to make correct decisions.


The techniques I employed in the following scenario include:
  • the command "leave it"
  • backwards walking to accomplish loose-leash heeling
  • name recognition
  • physical diversions (leash tug and finger poke)
  • verbal encouragement
  • diverting commands (giving him something else to focus on)
Less than two blocks into our walk the other day, FLD Mike and I approached a house with three small dogs yipping behind the fence at the top of the driveway.  Mike, of course, craned his head in their direction and wandered off course toward them, eager to play.

Mike. Leave it, I said as I slowed our pace.  FLD Mike pulled to the end of his leash.  I took a step or two backwards until he glanced at me and stopped pulling.

Mike. Heel.  I took a few steps forward with FLD Mike in a nice heel and stopped on the sidewalk at the end of the driveway.  Mike stopped too, but strained against his leash toward the now-frantic doggies.

Next technique:  name recognitionMike.  But FLD Mike was oblivious.

I gave a light tug on his leash.  FLD Mike almost turned his head around to look at me, but before I could verbally encourage his avoidance with a "good boy," his focus was back on the three dogs.  My timing was off--I missed the opportunity to motive Mike away from the distraction.

I poked FLD Mike on his rear haunches with my finger.  This got him to move his rear end away to glance back at me with a look that said, "What?  Can't you see I'm busy here?"  Before he could swing his head back toward the dogs, I loudly praised him in my best "baby-talk" voice:  Good boy, Mike!  That's it!  His tail wagged half-heartedly as he momentarily lost interest in the still-yipping dogs.  I kept talking in my high-pitched, silly voice.  That's such a good boy, Mike!  Isn't it nice to take a walk today?  You don't care about those little dogs, do you?  Mike's tail wagged with enthusiasm, the tension on his leash eased, and he gave me his full attention.

Now that I had his focus on me, I said, Mike. Sit.  I mentally counted one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, while he thought about it and finally sat.  More praise!  Good sit, Mike!

FLD Mike gave a fleeting look at the three frenzied dogs, but I quickly gave him another command.  Mike. Down.  Mike loves to do "down," so I knew he would follow through with this command.  Mike. Stay.  I gave him a hand signal (open palm facing him) as I stepped away to the end of  his leash.  His eyes followed me; I returned to his side.  Good stay, Mike!  I continued working commands like this (Mike. Stand.  Mike. Down.  Mike. Sit.) until FLD Mike was obviously tuned in to me, and not the yipping dogs.

Mike. Heel.  On our way, ready for the next distraction.

MEET AND GREET / Kid Distraction

In this next scenario, FLD Mike needs to learn to stay calm when we approach a stranger.  Add a kid distraction and I had my hands full!

From a few houses away, I spied a toddler and her grandmother playing with a bouncy-ball in the front yard between the porch and the sidewalk.  A perfect opportunity to practice a "meet and greet."

When FLD Mike saw them, he immediately strained forward against his leash.  I immediately took some backwards steps.  He stopped pulling; we continued.  He pulled; I walked backwards.  After three or four attempts at forward progress, FLD Mike finally held himself in check with a loose-leash heel.  I slowed my pace and stopping in front of the house with the little girl.

FLD Mike tried to yank me forward; I was prepared and held him back.  Mike. Sit, I commanded, but he was too distracted.  I did not repeat the command; rather, I physically put Mike into a sit and held him there with a taut leash until he stopped straining.  Good sit, Mike!

With FLD Mike shivering with interest at my side, I chatted with the grandmother who was standing several feet away.  The toddler wandered close to her grandmother, curious about the big, black doggie.  Good boy, Mike.    I was pleased he was controlling himself.  My eyes were on the cute little girl.  Suddenly, Mike lunged, unable to contain himself any longer.  I had a tight hold on his leash and snapped him back.  NO! Mike. Sit.  Again, I had to physically put him back into a sit.

I missed another chance to "catch" FLD Mike before he reacted.

I took a deep breath.

With FLD Mike in a sit, I continued my chat with the grandmother, yet kept my attention on him.  When Mike settled, I said bye-bye to the little girl.  Mike. Heel.  We were on our way again.

Whether FLD Mike and I are on a walk, shopping in the grocery store, picking up a book from the library, or enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast at the corner restaurant, I try to take advantage of natural training opportunites.  I use techniques like name recognition to keep FLD Mike's focus on me and attention to his job at hand--heeling calmly at my left side, presenting a friendly, yet not overbearing presence, and settling patiently when I pause.

It is my job to stay centered on FLD Mike, anticipate distractions, remain consistent with my expectaions, and make the necessary effort to help him succeed.  Sometimes I am successful.  Sometimes I struggle and it seems as though I need as much practice as FLD Mike does!  Together, we do the best we can to prepare him for his return to Leader Dogs for the Blind on September 13.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What's in a Name? (Or, how I scared Mike when FLD Mike burst into the house.

More adventures during my visit with my high-school friend, Robin, last week.  Robin was in town for a family wedding and was staying at her sister's house, where we got together.  It had been over 10 years since we had seen each other. 

FLD Mike was romping free around the fenced-in backyard as Robin and I visited.  Off-leash was a rare freedom allowed only when safe in an enclosed area.  I stepped out of the yard to retrieve his bowl from the back of my truck.  It was hot, and FLD Mike needed water.
As I re-entered the yard, closing the gate behind me, I heard the patio door slide open, and looked up to see FLD Mike dart past the emerging legs of Mike, Robin’s husband.
I dropped the bowl and bolted for the door.  I knew there were cats inside; I wasn’t worried about them—past experience indicated that the cats probably had the upper hand—but FLD Mike would find their litter box lickety-split.
Mike, Robin’s husband, hopped down the short step to the patio and exclaimed “What the…!?”—wondering what black streak just brushed by.  He turned and saw me running full-bore toward him; he turned again and hustled back into the house, alarmed.
I yelled, “MIKE!  NO!”
Unbeknownst to me, Mike, Robin’s husband, had gotten into trouble earlier that day for inadvertently letting one of the cats out when he opened the door.  Now he couldn’t figure out why I was screaming “NO” at him.  His first reaction at the sight of me racing to the house was that it was up to him to save the cats from this huge, wild black dog that he just let in the house inadvertently!
Unbeknownst to Mike, Robin’s husband, my 9-month-old black-lab Future Leader Dog was named “Mike.”  In fact, Mike, Robin’s husband, had no reason to suspect that a 9-month-old black lab named “Mike” would be in the back yard at all, ready to leap past him into the house just as he slid open the door.
“Mike!” I hollered again as I leapt through the open door after FLD Mike.  Mike, Robin’s husband, dodged and darted out of my way, not sure what brand of crazy-woman was threatening him.
I was focused on getting FLD Mike’s attention so I could drag him back outside where he belonged; it never dawned on me that Mike, Robin’s husband, thought that I was yelling at him!
When the dust settled, when Mike, Robin’s husband, got his heart-rate back down to normal, when FLD Mike got his drink of water, when Robin finally stopped laughing at all the commotion, Mike, Robin’s husband, met FLD Mike, and we all shared a good laugh.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ice Cream Social

Many thanks to Leader Dogs for the Blind puppy counselor, Sherrill, for hosting her annual Ice Cream Social this week!  We puppy-raisers enjoyed camaraderie, pleasant weather, cool drinks, and plenty of vanilla ice cream (with fixin's for sundaes) and Good Humor bars.

Our Future Leader Dogs played hard, with nary a break, and all of them got into the action--black pups, brown pups, blond pups, and chocolate pups.  No mean fighting, and plenty of entertainment for us as we watched the pack's pecking order develop!

A giant green water bowl was a popular attraction, although the bog that ensued behind the air conditioner caused trouble for more than one puppy.  And for my three nieces (Elaina, Sofia, and Natalie), who bore the brunt of a muddy-puppy shake-off!

I'm sure that FLD Mike wasn't the only pooped-out puppy by the end of the evening, but it didn't work quite the same way with my nieces when I brought them home to their mother.

"Looks like they had a good time--how much ice cream did they eat?" my sister Anne asked me as the three bounded in, chattering away.

Hey, it's summertime!  Yippee!

You too can attend puppy-outings as fun as this one...raise your own Future Leader Dog!  Apply today to become a puppy-raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

FLD Mike Cleans the Yard

Thirty-six years ago, during the summer of 1974, my high-school friend, Robin, and I hopped on our Raleigh 10-speed bicycles and went for a ride.  We packed cameras, maps, clothes, rain-gear, cook-kit, first-aid kit, repair kit, spare tubes (although neither one of us had ever changed a flat tire), tent, sleeping bags and pads, bike lock, and a quest for adventure.  We found it on the back roads of Michigan.

It wasn't until just the other day that I took the opportunity to finally ask her, Robin, why did you take that trip with me?  Bicycle touring was always my dream, not hers.

From the age of five, the first time I felt the addicting roll of rubber beneath me as I lifted my feet from the ground, all I ever wanted to do was to get on my bike and RIDE.  Somewhere.  Anywhere.  When other kids drew circles around the toys they wanted in the Sears Christmas Catalog, I added drawings to the pictures of bicycles--my tent would strap on here, my packs would attach there.

When my older brother, Rick, was a young teen, he bought himself an "English racer" bicycle with his paper route money.  I scrutinized him through the side-screen-door as he proudly wheeled it up the driveway into the garage.  His bike was off-limits, but I sneaked aboard it anyway, climbing up onto the leather Brooks saddle to travel thousands of miles without ever leaving the garage (I couldn't even reach the pedals).

One summer during grade school, I "borrowed" my younger brother Jim's banana-seat bike to take my first long ride.  A friend and I rode from my house on the west side of Detroit to Farmington to visit my aunt and grandmother.  We ate lunch, my aunt took us horseback riding, and then we rode home.  It took us all day, and I was hooked.

In the summer of 1971, when my family was living in Clare, I met a small group of cyclists who were riding in the very first DALMAC (Dick Allen's Lansing to Mackinaw) tour.  I begged my mother to let me join them for the rest of the weekend.  I only had a single-speed bike, but I was confident that I could make the trip.  "No way," my mother said.

But three years later, my high-school graduation gift from my parents was a fabulous pair of bright yellow Cannondale panniers.  I bought myself a Raleigh Super Course, installed a steel rack on the back, and conned Robin into joining me on a month-long bicycle tour of Michigan.  We left our Detroit suburbs, headed west to the shores of Lake Michigan, north to the Straits of Mackinac, and south through the middle of our mitten-state to return home.  Robin wanted to get back in time for her brother's wedding; had it been up to me, we'd still be riding!

After our trip, Robin moved to California, but we kept in touch now and then over the years.  She married in her 30's, traveled the world (70 countries), and now splits her time between Tahoe and Hawaii.  I stayed in Michigan and continued biking (plus a whole lot of other things)--but these are stories for another time.  When Robin emailed me a few weeks ago it had been over 10 years since I had seen her.  "I'm coming into town for a wedding.  Can we get together?"  You bet!

Which leads me, finally, to FLD Mike, and how he cleaned up the yard at Robin's sister's house.

I picked Robin up from her sister's house in Rochester and we went to lunch at Mind, Body, and Spirits, a Future-Leader-Dog-friendly restaurant.  Of course, FLD Mike came along.  Afterwards, we sat on her sister's patio and visited while FLD Mike romped free around the fenced-in yard.

Mike, what do you have?  I asked as he trotted over with a soft soccer ball in his mouth.  Give.  He promptly dropped the ball at my feet.  I set it aside atop the patio table.  Future Leader Dogs aren't allowed to have balls, I explained to Robin.  We had a lot of years to catch up on, so we continued chatting.  FLD Mike went off to muck about the yard.

I glanced up to see FLD Mike bouncing over with another soccer ball.  Where did you find that? I asked.  After the first ball, I scanned the yard for more, but it was clear.  I thought.  He happily "gave" it to me; I put it on the table with the first ball and kept on visiting.

The third ball FLD Mike brought me was a long-neglected volleyball.  "I'll bet my niece didn't even know that ball was missing!" Robin said.  FLD Mike again "gave" me the ball with no hesitation.  He seemed rather pleased with himself as he bounded off to scrounge among the shrubbery that lined the street-side fence of the corner-yard.

Throughout my afternoon visit with Robin, FLD Mike found, and brought to me, a total of two soccer balls, one volleyball, two hardballs, one ripped-up tennis ball, and a bunch of torn-up paper.

"Maybe Mike could be a Search-and-Rescue dog if he doesn't make it as a Leader Dog for the Blind," Robin chuckled.  Perhaps so.  I left our visit happy to reminisce with my first bicycle-touring friend; FLD Mike came away tired and satisfied with his yard-cleaning job.

Oh, I almost forgot...Robin's answer to my question about why she agreed to take that bike trip with me so long ago.  "I don't know," she answered.  "It just sounded like fun!"  We both concurred--it was a blast! 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rosie, The Wonder Dog

School is out for the summer and the house is quiet with sleeping-in-girls.  Mid-morning, Anne takes the fixings for soup out of the freezer:  homemade stock, frozen vegetables, beef.  She plops everything into a 6-quart soup pot, adds a little water, turns the stove burner to "medium," and sets about her day.  It will be awhile before the frozen chunks thaw to a simmer.

Later, the heat and humidity of the mid-June afternoon keeps the kids in the shade-drawn living room, maneuvering for the coolest spot in the path of the circulating fan.  Even Rosie the Lab is listless this lazy day.  Anne sits at her computer and thinks, "It's way too early for the 'dog days' of summer!"

Suddenly, Rosie plants herself in front of Natalie, the youngest of Anne's three girls, and stares.  When Natalie notices and looks up from her book, Rosie runs into the kitchen; when Natalie doesn't follow her, Rosie trots back into the living room and stares at Sofia, the next oldest.

"Hi Rosie!" Sofia reaches out to scratch her head.  But Rosie doesn't linger.  She races off to the kitchen a second time, nails clicking on the tile floor.  Sofia goes back to her drawing.

Rosie rushes back in and fixes herself in front of Anne, who barely glances up.  "Nat, I think Rosie needs to 'park.'  This is your week, will you go take her?"

Natalie sets her book down with a sigh and heads to the back door off the kitchen.  Rosie beats her to it.  "Rosie.  Sit." Natalie commands and puts Rosie's leash on to take her out.

"Mom," Natalie yells a few minutes later as she comes back in.  "Rosie wouldn't go.  She wouldn't get off the driveway onto the grass!"  Natalie struggles to unclip the leash from the squirming dog.  Free, Rosie sprints into the living room and resumes her stare in front of Anne.

Anne swings around in her desk chair.  "What's up, Rosie?"

Rosie lifts her nose into the air and sniffs, swinging her snout over her left shoulder, but maintains eye contact with Anne.  Anne considers, and then takes a sniff herself.


As Anne leaps from her chair, Rosie darts into the kitchen ahead of her, sliding to a stop in front of the stove.  The pot is furiously boiling over.  Just in time, Anne grabs a towel to drag the pot off the burner.

"Rosie, you saved the day!"

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A TIP for Tuesday: LEAVE IT

NEWS FLASH!  Eight-Week-Old Black Lab Ignores Pile of Puppy Food Left on the Floor!

Astonishing, but true!  An eight-week-old Labrador puppy, in training to be a Future Leader Dog for the Blind, salivates over food morsels, but he does not devour them.  His puppy-raiser merely says, "Leave it," and the puppy looks away from the food.

Can any puppy learn to do this?  Is this a remarkable trait only found in Future Leader Dogs?

Absolutely!  If a food-crazed Lab can learn self-control, any puppy can!  Follow these simple steps to teach your puppy to "leave it," and you too can amaze your friends! 


Start with two small piles of food--one you can cover in your hand, the other out of reach behind you (on a table, for example).

Open your hand so your puppy can see the food.  When he/she tries to get it, close your hand around the food.  Do NOT let your puppy snatch it!  Don't say anything; let your puppy investigate.  If your puppy is insistent about mouthing your hand, lift your hand above your head.  Avoid eye contact with your puppy.

Be ready to reward your puppy with a food morsel from the second pile the moment he/she backs away from your hand, or looks away.  Timing is crucial.

After you reward your puppy, show him/her the food in your hand again.  Remember, the puppy must NEVER get the food in your hand!  (See more about "variable reinforcement" here, or on my Definitions page.) 

Repeat until your puppy backs away or ignores the food in your hand.  Stay calm, don't scold, be ready to reward.  (You can say, "good boy/girl," when you reward with food from the second pile.)

These steps teach your puppy to leave things alone.  Once he/she is starting to get the idea to back off, you can add a word cue to associate with the behavior.  This cue helps your puppy learn to make a choice--"I only get a treat when I ignore the hand with the food.  I'd better leave it alone!"

Offer the food in your hand.  Say, "Leave it" in a soft, calm voice.  Be ready to close your hand over the food to prevent  your puppy from getting it; reward when your puppy looks or backs away.

Your puppy cannot "generalize."  He/she learns in specifics, so you have to teach him/her that this new behavior is required in every circumstance.  Put your food hand down to the floor and repeat the steps above.  Move your hand to his/her side and repeat, etc.

(For more information about generalization, check out this website article:   Generalization. What it is and Why it Must Be Taken Into Account for Training Success.)

Your puppy needs to learn that "leave it" means "leave it" no matter where he/she is--the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom, etc.  Don't expect him/her to automatically know what to do the first time in a new place.  You might have to "back track" with the above steps in each new room.

Put the first pile of food directly on the floor.  Be ready to cover the food with your hand if your puppy tries to get it.  Your puppy must NEVER get to this pile.  Repeat as above:  say "leave it" to your puppy; reward your puppy when he/she looks or backs away.  Repeat with the food in different places and in different rooms.

Say "leave it" as you approach the food.  Be careful not to give a leash "correction."  Your puppy should not be punished as he/she is learning to make a choice, only rewarded for making the correct choice.

Tell your puppy to "leave it" when your drop a used napkin on the floor, or a fork with good smells on it, or other tempting objects.  Reward the correct behavior.

When your puppy reliably "leaves it" anywhere in the house, try the exercise outside.  Be prepared to start at the beginning and repeat all steps.

  •  Remember to include the food you use in this exercise in the total food your puppy eats for the day.  We don't want your puppy to get "fat!"
  • If your puppy is extremely food motivated, do this exercise after he/she has eaten (reserve some of his/her meal for the exercise).
  • Break the exercise into short sessions (10-20 minutes).  Perhaps the first time you will only progress to Step #5.
  • Always end the sessions on a positive.
  • Let your puppy "rest" for at least one hour between "sessions."
  • Begin a new session with a "review," backtracking a bit to "warm up" your puppy for learning.
  • Mix it up.  Avoid "programming" your puppy.  Vary your training routine.  For example, move from Step #9 (food on the floor) to step #7 (food in your hand).  Or, put the food on your knee instead of the floor.  Be creative!  This will help your puppy to "generalize."
  • You can do this exercise on-leash to hold your puppy away from the food, but be careful not to give a leash "correction."  Your puppy should not be punished as he/she is learning to make a choice, only rewarded for making the correct choice.
  • As your puppy starts to "generalize" (he/she "leaves it" in many situations), begin to wean your puppy off food as a reward, using verbal praise instead.  You might have to revert to food in new distracting situations (like a grocery store), but don't give a food reward every time.
Good luck, and have fun!  If you have any questions, please leave a comment, or email me, and I will get back to you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

An Early Morning Walk

Things I noticed that FLD Mike passed by today: 

a pink plastic straw, 
a curved piece of metal,

cigarette butts,
the wrapper from a pack of cigarettes,
swarming ants, 

miniature pine cones,

an orange reflector shard,
maple-seed helicopters. 

Just a few months ago I would have been fishing each and every one of these out of Mike's mouth with my finger!  Now, the LEAVE IT command most often causes FLD Mike to sniff the thing, but continue on without nabbing it. 

I test him.

We pause near a littered-plastic bottle. 
Mike. DOWN. STAY. 
As I step away to take his picture I tell him, LEAVE IT.

He doesn't care about the bottle.

He zeros in on an acorn and snatches it up.


 Too late, I say again, LEAVE IT.


He tongues the acorn for a moment,
then spits, PTTUUYYEE.

 Good boy, Mike! 
My finger is saved from his slobber.

Nine-month-old-FLD Mike's distractions are further away these days instead of just-under-nose: 

a bird picking clean the sidewalk crack,
muffled dog-barks from inside air-conditioned bungalows,

a rabbit a house away,
kids playing four-square in their driveway across the street,


a squirrel rustling in the branches overhead.

But he is doing so well as I heel him (without other FLD puppies around) that I relax.

FLD Mike is patient with me when I get distracted by:

a lucky penny,

ants on a flower (that I cannot name),


and bees busy collecting nectar.

 A beautiful walk this morning! 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rochester Puppy Outing

Last night FLD Mike and I met a Leader Dogs for the Blind puppy-group in downtown Rochester.  The following video shows some of the situations our puppies are exposed to during a typical outing (sponsored by our puppy-counselors).

See how much fun you can have as a puppy-raiser?  Please consider joining our ranks and meet new friends!  Fill out your application today!


Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Beyond Basics" cont'd. CROSS WALKS


Slow down.

Pay attention.

There is a world beyond you.

You stopped yourself from running the red light across Rochester Road (did you spot the cop behind you in your rear-view mirror?), but where you ended up was smack-dab in the middle of the cross walk.  Did you not see the three-to-four pairs of volunteer puppy-raisers with their Future Leader Dogs standing at each of the four corners of the intersection?  In front of the Leader Dogs for the Blind complex on Avon Road?  You were lucky the police officer left you room to back up out of our way.

Thanks for enhancing our training experience. 

Take care, someone loves you and worries about you!
patti  and FLD Mike

Congratulations to all the puppy-raisers and Future Leader Dogs who completed the "Beyond Basics" class at Leader Dogs for the Blind!  And made it safely across Rochester and Avon Roads!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Beyond Basics"

It is our last night of "Beyond Basics" puppy-class at the Leader Dogs for the Blind school.  FLD Mike completed the "Foundations" class in January, thanks to my sister Anne and Company, who completed the sessions for me when I couldn't make it.

It's hard to believe three more months have zipped by--FLD Mike is now nine-months-old!  Only three more months until we return him to Leader Dogs for his formal training.  Although Mike has a more relaxed "working pace" than my first puppy (career-changed Rosie), I still wonder how he'll do.  Like all puppy-raisers, I hope for the best.

Tonight's class takes us outside to practice practical situations:  stairs, crosswalks, roadside traffic.  But first we begin with a challenge.  We are separated into groups; FLD Mike is paired with a 10-month-old male German Shepherd (GS).  We take our jacketed-puppies on leash into play areas to work on "name recognition," using treats to reinforce their focus.

Then, our instructor announces:  "Okay raisers, remove your puppies' jackets and leashes.  Let them play!"

This is highly unusual; our puppies have never been allowed to play together in class.  FLD Mike doesn't question my OK release--he immediately dashes over to the GS and rears up into a wrestling embrace.

"Raisers," the instructor yells above the chaos, "call your puppies!"  Our instructions are to call our puppy by name, followed by the "come" command.  If our puppy ignores us, we are not to repeat either the command or the name--we are to go and get our puppy and bring him back to where we called him.  Release and repeat, although if our puppy does not "come" the first time, we must drop that command and call by name only.

FLD Mike ignores my first Mike. Come.  I drag him off the GS and get him to follow me to the other side of the pen.  Now his focus returns to me and he sits.  I ask for a DOWN instead, so I can give him a treat.  He complies.  Good boy!  OK!  He tears back to continue wrestling.

Mike!  I leave off the "come" command as instructed.  Mike ignores me.  I go get him.  I make him SIT or DOWN.  He is attentive; I release him; he streaks off.  We do this more than a few times.  Once or twice I am sure Mike hears me because he tries, but fails, to break away from the GS to race over for his treat.  Another time, Mike follows the GS to his puppy-raiser instead, expecting a treat from her.  I go and get him again.

After this fun and instructive exercise (we all have a long way to go to achieve a reliable "come"), we puppy-raisers struggle to regain our puppies' focus for our next task--crosswalks. be continued

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A TIP for Tuesday: POOP REPORT

"Everything came out just fine.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the Saturday morning Poop Report," my husband, Andy, cheerily announced last weekend as he brought FLD Mike in after his first "park" of the day.  (Click here to view a list of definitions of words and commands like "park.")

We live in a townhouse, so potty-time is on-leash in a corner of our common area.  While taking the dogs out like this can be annoying in a heavy rain (or in minus-zero wind-chills), it forces us to "cleanup" right away.  If we had a fenced-in backyard and could let the dogs go out alone, procrastination would get the best of me and cleanup would soon get out of hand.

Andy takes the morning "dootie;" for the most part I am in charge of the rest of the day.  Every morning it is the same routine:  Andy grabs a couple of recycled grocery bags and takes Gypsy out first; FLD Mike waits in his crate until it is his turn to "park."  Afterwards, Andy makes coffee; I come downstairs and ask, How did they doo?

Without going into further detail, suffice to say that I don't think I'm the only dog-owner who monitors the health of the family pet (and Future Leader Dog) through a close watch on bodily functions.  But knowing what the dogs have done at their first "dootie" gives me a heads up on their schedule as the day unfolds.

NORMAL:  both #1 and #2 accomplished.
This means that after feeding the dogs, I don't expect to have to take them out again for a few hours.  (FLD Mike is now nine-months old and very reliable.)  Our "normal" daily routine is this:
  • First "park" between 6:00 am and 7:00 am.
  • Second "park" is mid-morning, usually between 10:00 am and noon, when I take the dogs out for a walk.  Both #1 and #2 again.  Any later than that, and I pay attention when FLD Mike gets restless--he's been patient long enough, let's go!  (He waits for me, but still, it is my responsibility to meet his needs.)
  • The rest of the day depends on what we do.  I always "park" them if Andy and I leave the house for any reason, and then again when we return.  FLD Mike gets "parked" before I take him inside a store, restaurant, class, or puppy-outing.  This usually results in just a #1.  If we stay around the house, I might not take them out again until after dinner; again, typically just a #1, but I might get another #2 out of FLD Mike.  If it is hot and I notice a lot of drinking after our walk, I will take them out again within an hour or so for #1.
  • A last "park" of the night just before bed; usually just #1, occasionally another #2.  This can be anytime between 9:30 pm and 11:00 pm.

ANYTHING NOT NORMAL:  rarely, but sometimes one or the other dog doesn't do a #1 or a #2 right away in the morning.  Or, a #2 is anything but a firm, defined stool (I know, TMI!).
  • This means that I'll need to keep a close watch and be prepared to make a trip outside before our "normal" mid-morning "park."
  • If the #2 is "abnormal" I take note of the next #2 to be sure that everything is ok.

Recently, a new puppy-raiser asked me, "How do I get my puppy to tell me when he has to go?  He still has accidents."  She's had her three-month old puppy for a month.  "Someone once told me to teach him to ring some bells on the back door when he has to go out.  What do you think about that?"

Questions like these are pertinent, yet I struggle to give her a simple answer.  Potty-training a puppy is less about teaching him to let you know "when he has to go," and more about teaching him bladder- and bowl-control.

Approached this way, it is the human's responsibility to "read" the puppy when he is about to relieve himself, get him outside in time, and manage his input and output schedule.  The puppy needs to learn that relieving himself INSIDE is INAPPROPRIATE behavior; holding himself to go OUTSIDE is GOOD behavior.  Teaching him this is a front-end-loaded effort (read more about potty-training specifics at my TIPS from April 13 and April 20).  I reiterate what my trainer-friend Katie says:  "A couple weeks of intense effort will pay off with years of pleasant co-habitation with your dog."

As for teaching a puppy to ring bells at the door?  Those bells might well be your puppy demanding:  "I want to go out.  NOW."  It seems to me that your puppy learns to train YOU.  Wouldn't you rather have a puppy that understands he must control himself and relieve himself on YOUR schedule?  Make the effort to teach your puppy, and you will!

Monday, June 14, 2010


One of the most enjoyable things about raising a puppy for Leader Dogs for the Blind is being able to take your puppy with you every where you go.  Socialization is vital for a dog that will be working in the public.

If you think it would be great to raise a Future Leader Dog (FLD) puppy, you are right!  But having a FLD constantly at your side carries its own risks.  Here are a few things to consider.


You will no longer be able to walk anonymously through a crowd.  Well, perhaps YOU will be anonymous, but your FLD puppy won't be!

Faces of faculty at your stepdaughter's graduation will transform from solemn to cheery when their eyes fall upon your FLD puppy as they file past you to the stage.

The waitress at breakfast will tell you about her grandmother's dog, "We took care of Skip and at night everyone had to get up to tell Skip 'good-night' before he would go to bed to sleep."

You will assume that every third person you meet is a Lion's Club member--never will you encounter so many proud introductions.


Adults who know better, and children who don't, will dive-bomb your FLD puppy with pets and goo-goo talk, without asking for permission.  It can be a challenge to politely educate them about how to approach a working dog, while attempting to get your once-was-settled-now-energized puppy under control!


Questions never end.  "How old is he?"  "How long do you keep him?"  "Do you have a dog of your own too?  How does that work out?"  "Do you have to train him?"  "I could never do that--how do you give him up?"

After a gazillion times, it can become difficult to answer with enthusiasm, but never will you have as good an ice-breaker as your FLD puppy.

Raising a Future Leader Dog is a remarkable experience.  It is fun, inspiring, entertaining, educational, and gratifying.  You are never alone--the staff and volunteer network at Leader Dogs for the Blind are always available and eager to help.

Fill out your puppy-raiser application today!