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Friday, July 30, 2010

Puppy Raisers Have Friends Everywhere

My friend Marie joins FLD Mike and I for a bit-over-three-mile-walk through my neighborhood early, trying to beat the heat.  Even so, we are grateful for the shaded passage offered by the mature trees along the way.

FLD Mike is rambunctious.  I'm glad Marie doesn't mind that I backwards-walk several times each block of the first mile before he finally settles in.  It seems to me that 10-month-old Mike is maturing later than cc'd Rosie; she was about seven months old when I felt like returning her early to Leader Dogs for the Blind!  Ah, that lovely time of adolescence and rampant hormones.

We savor a long drink of cold water at the end of our walk, and then head to the Hometown Grill for a late breakfast.  "Don't you have to ask permission?"  Marie asks as I direct FLD Mike, Around to enter through the left-side-hinged door.  No, they know Mike here.
"Sit anywhere," the waitress announces despite the "Please Wait to Be Seated" sign.  "Hi, Mike!" She adds over her shoulder as she hustles out an armful of plates.  We head for a booth.
"I guess they do," smiles Marie.
FLD Mike does not want to go to his place under our table (that teenage-thing again).  Once he realizes he has no choice, he plunks down to cool off on the tile floor.  By the time the waitress brings our menus, he is snoozing on his side, blowing drool-bubbles.  He pays her no mind. 
The cinnamon-roll french toast is awesome, I tell Marie, who decides to order it too.  And the cook crisps the bacon just the way I like it!  She skips the bacon, but I indulge.
An unfamiliar waitress brings me coffee; when she spots FLD Mike stretched out on the floor, she asks, "Is he a pure lab?"  Yes.  She proceeds to tell me all about her old lab that she had to put down last year at the ripe old age of 15.  I extend my sympathies and put a plug in for Leader Dogs, You know, Leader Dogs really needs more puppy-raisers!  She replies, as most do, "Oh no, I could never give him back!"  I glance at Marie, who's heard this before, and launch into a short oration about what we puppy-raisers "give" rather than "give up."

I can't sell her on becoming a new raiser.  She continues on with her coffee-duty and does not come back.

It's amazing, I say to Marie.  I hear stories about everyone's dogs!  (Someday I'll have to write about them.)
Our server brings the bill and says, "That other service dog I told you about is coming in."  During prior visits (no, I don't eat here every day), she described a working Golden Retriever who frequents the place.  "She brings me their bill to pay and takes back the change!" 
FLD Mike's head whips up when a man and woman enter the restaurant with a jacketed "Paws with a Cause" dog and seat themselves in a booth next to the door.  Mike stays calm, but his tail slaps the floor.

Mike.  Stand.  Heel.  I avoid passing the Paws dog when I take FLD Mike up to the cashier's station; best to ease him closer so when we leave there isn't a ruckus.  Both dogs crane their noses when we approach the door.  I pause near their booth.  Mike.  Sit.  He sits.
Hi, I'm patti, this is Mike.  He is still sitting, but panting and getting worked up.
"I'm Laura, and my dog is Isis."
FLD Mike lets out a single "Woof!" and stands up.  I am ready when he springs to reach Isis--he's back into his sit before he knows what happened.  A few under-his-breath-whines and he settles down.  This is great training for him, I say and continue a short conversation with Laura and her companion.  Isis, meanwhile, has remained unruffled beneath the booth.
Isis is a youthful, yet gray-snouted 13-year-old Golden, "certified" by Paws with a Cause to work until she's 14.  I learn that Laura lives on my two-mile-walking-route.  She says, "I see you walking all the time!"  
As we leave, Laura thanks me for raising Mike.  "Paws dogs are awesome, but what those Leader Dogs do is amazing!"

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Discovery Cruise

Map of the north end of Lake St. Clair - photo by Sofia!

The storm blew through about 3:00pm, knocking out electricity in areas not far from Lake St. Clair, the site of our Wednesday evening puppy-outing.  Puppy-counselor, Nance, had organized a Discovery Cruise for our group of Future Leader Dogs.

We eagerly awaited her call to confirm.

"Patti?  This is Nance.  It's a go."  The storm passed and the sky was clearing.

Great!  I rounded up FLD Mike from the backyard where he was wrestling with cc'd Rosie.  My husband Andy got our nieces in the van and off we drove to Metro Beach to meet our puppy group.

Did you know that the average depth of Lake St. Clair is only 10 feet?  We learned many historical facts as we traveled about 14 miles from the North Marina at Metro Beach to the South Channel and back.  

Do you know where the expression "mad as a hatter" comes from?  We got to feel a real beaver pelt and found out that mercury was once used to process the pelts during hat making.  The mercury gave off noxious fumes that affected the brains of the hatters.

Good thing our boat Captain wasn't wearing a beaver hat!  He brought us  very close to the two South Channel Lighthouses that were built before Abraham Lincoln was President.  Representatives from the "Save Our South Channel Lights" spoke to us about their restoration efforts.

All the FLDs were very well-behaved.

Some paid attention to the presenters, others took a nap.

I, for one, was happy to have taken Dramamine!  FLD Mike looked like he felt a little queazy until he was able to air his ears out on the bow. 

FLD Ranger scoffed at the life ring hanging nearby.  "Don't they know retrievers can swim?"

A beautiful sunset greeted our return.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Rosie Road, part 12 "FLD Rosie Meets the Girls"

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Gypsy lets out a sharp "BARK!" and races to the back door with eight-week-old FLD Rosie fast on her heels.  The soccer girls are here!  Lavendar Lightning Sofia, Red Demon Natalie, and Blue Jay Elaina.  Their mom, arms filled with soccer paraphernaila and gym bags, struggles with the door.

Gypsy turns, bowls Rosie over, runs back into the living room to snatch the nearest toy, and returns in a butt-wiggling prance, vocalizing her joy with a Nylabone-muffle.  Rosie barely has a chance to right her "Budda-belly" self as my three nieces barge in. 

It's a bottleneck in the back hallway.

"Come on girls, let's get in!"  Says Anne, pushing the wave of giggling girls ahead of her.

Soccer balls, Gatorade bottles, and bags drop to the floor and the flood washes into the living room.

Girls, meet FLD Rosie; FLD Rosie, meet the girls!

Lavender Lightning Sofia
Red Demon Natalie

Blue Jay Elaina
The beginning of the bond.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


FLD Mike at 8 weeks.
When Andy makes the turn onto my sister Anne's street, FLD Mike struggles up to a sit from where he had been lying at my feet.  He is getting too big for the confining space of the passenger seat floor (where we are taught to transport our FLDs), but this is where he feels most comfortable.

FLD Mike knows where we are and pants in anticipation of a gambol with cc'd Rosie.

I'm going to work on loose-leash heeling today, I tell Andy as we pull up into Anne's driveway.  FLD Mike tends to yank on his leash until he gets into the backyard to play.  I typically alternate "backwards walking" with diverting commands (SIT or DOWN) until I release him.  Today I intend to work with Mike up and down the street until he can calmly heel all the way to the gate.

"Good luck with that," Andy says as he heads to the garage to work on his boat.

FLD Mike is ecstatic and bounds out of the van, but I make him WAIT while I put on his working vest.  Mike.  Heel.  We head down to the sidewalk.  Mike, right.  We turn and walk away from the house.  I keep him moving forward even as he bounces along, head craning to look back at the house.  He settles into a composed heel after passing several houses.

I add a few commands--SIT, DOWN, AROUND, SIT, STAY, COME, HEEL.  He is working for me now, checking in when I say Mike before each command.  We cross the street and double back.  As we get closer, FLD Mike's head cranes and his bounce returns.  I heel past; he pays attention.  I cross back over.  As we bypass Anne's house, Mike shows interest but is easier to bring back on task.

Repeat.  And then repeat, without crossing the street.

I think he's ready.  Mike, right, I say as we go around the van and turn toward the house.  He prances, eager to reach Rosie; she is barking and carrying on at the gate.

FLD Mike lunges.  I am ready and immediately reverse my direction.  Mike swings himself around to follow me, relieving tension on the leash, but his eyes stay on Rosie.  I keep walking backwards; he finally glances up at me.  I stop.  Mike.  Sit.  He sits, but trembles.  Mike.  Heel.  I take a step forward.  Mike coils his body and springs.  I step back.

I feel like the inchworm that measures the marigolds.  Inch by inch we advance.  We heel a few steps; Mike can't control himself and he lunges; I step backwards and we do it again.

Andy is finished with the boat.  Anne comes out and they both lean against the front of the van to monitor our progress.  Rosie gives it up and lies down just inside the gate to wait.  After a half-dozen or more times watching FLD Mike and I backwards walk when we are only a few paces from the fence, she stands up, lets loose a huge yawn, turns, and trots into the back yard.

Andy says, "Rosie is telling you, Mike:  'Just do what you're told already!  And hurry it up, I'm tired of waiting for you!'"

It seems to work.  Mike.  Heel, I say one more time, and finally he controls himself and we walk calmly up to the gate.  Mike.  Sit.  He sits.  Good boy, Mike!  Now, wait.  He holds his sit while I open the gate and un-hook his leash.  OK!  And he's off!



From the very first time you clip a leash to your puppy's collar, NEVER tolerate tension against the leash.  EVERY TIME your puppy pulls, stop and take a few steps back until your puppy looks at you or stops pulling.  Don't say anything; your consistent backwards walking will make your puppy understand that pulling will not get him/her anywhere.  Only a loose leash will allow your puppy to move forward, where he/she wants to go.

This is a  technique that demands constant attention on your part.  It can be extremely frustrating, especially if you are pressed for time or if you try to take a walk with someone else who isn't struggling to teach a puppy how to walk on a leash.

  • ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS walk backwards when you feel tension on the leash!
Consistency.  That is key.  And the most difficult thing to achieve.  Think about when you take your puppy to the grocery store--it is very easy for you to get distracted and tricky to backwards walk with a shopping cart!  I sometimes think that "backwards walking" as a method of teaching loose-leash-heeling (the preferred method by Leader Dogs) is an impossible procedure to perform 100% of the time, thus causing one to fall victim to "variable reinforcement."  (See "Definitions" for more about variable reinforcement.)

FLD Mike heels nicely on a loose leash.  Most of the time.  That is, if there aren't any other dogs around, or if we're not at puppy class at Leader Dogs for the Blind, or if we aren't walking near a lake where Gypsy is swimming for a stick, or if we're not approaching cc'd Rosie's backyard as she jumps for joy behind the gate.

Well, you get the idea.  These are a few of the things that really get Mike's attention away from what he's supposed to be doing.  Walking easily on my left side, his waist even with my leg, with no tension on the leash.

I'm glad that I started "backwards walking" with FLD Mike when I first brought him home, because now he knows what a loose leash heel is.  He was easy to control at seven weeks and less than eight pounds, but now, with testosterone building up in his 10 month old adolescent body (56 pounds of pure muscle), he's A LOT to handle.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Puppy Days at Leader Dogs for the Blind

A great time was had by all....

Harness parts awaiting assembly.

Julia greeting Reese's pups.

James surprised at how big Reese's pups are now!

Julia and Reese, with seven of Reece's pups and their raisers.

Julia playing with Molly.

FLD Mike: dog guide potential, not artist!

Family Portrait (9 out of 11 siblings attended!)

Anne and 2/3 Company checking out the puppy pen...

Take me, take me!

Nat and Sofia playing with FLD Doug--he's sporting a tu-tu!

FLD Doug gazing up at his raiser, puppy-counselor Anna.   (Am I the only one who wonders what he's really thinking?)

Me and FLD Mike getting into the red, white, and blue theme.

One tired out FLD Mike, resting on a Natalie-pillow.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Another Letter to FLD Mike's Future Handler

Dear future handler:

As I write this, it is about 24 hours until over 650 puppy-raisers and their friends and families gather at Leader Dogs for the Blind for their 23rd Annual Puppy and Breeding Stock Day.  This will be my first time attending.  I am bringing FLD (Future Leader Dog) Mike along for the fun.  (And my sister Anne, and two of her three girls.)  We are eager to meet up with the raisers of Mike's siblings and the host family of his mother, Reece.

That's Julia doing the backover!
I must tell you about Julia, the young girl who lives with Reece and who is responsible for keeping the raisers of Reece's litter in contact with her and each other.  Julia is a very smart and engaging 11 year old who loves gymnastics and diving (and puppies!).  Julia and her mother made each of us raisers a photo album of our puppies, with blank pages to add our own pictures.  This was no small feat--Mike has one brother and nine sisters!

I hope to complete my album and someday hand it off to you.

FLD Mike and Julia
FLD Mike is now 10 months old; in just about two months I will return him to Leader Dogs for the next step in his training.  As I reflect on how difficult it will be to let go of the puppy I've raised for so many months, I remember Julia.  She and her family gave FLD Mike a loving start and with grieving hearts passed him along to me to build on that foundation.  

Yet I am just another chapter in his journey to you.

Julia and I share the same goal--that our care and efforts will result in a confident, capable Leader Dog that will go on to enhance a stranger's life.  An unexpected thing has happened to my own life along the way.

I feel like I am part of a train-rolling force driving forward, and whenever I need a hand, I find friends along the way.  Leader Dog staff and volunteers, Julia (a force of her own), fellow puppy-raisers, puppy-counselors, my husband Andy, my sister Anne, and her three girls (Elaina, Sofia, and Natalie), friends and family members who patiently listen to my never-ending-dog-stories, strangers I meet because of my puppy, and the puppies themselves, who are so eager to please.  What an amazing network joined together, having fun along the way, just to offer a hand to another stranger.


Thank you for the opportunity,


FLD Mike gazing into his future.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Firefighters Keep the Cool

Troy Fire Department Puppy-Outing

Once again, FLD Mike and I drive across town at rush hour for a Leader Dogs for the Blind puppy-outing--this time at Station #6 of the Troy Fire Department.  FLD Mike and I participated in the Rochester Fire Department puppy-outing in April; tonight Andy comes with us.

Andy says, "It's the only way I can spend time with you lately."  Guess I have been keeping busy--last weekend a trip with my folks to visit my brother in Ohio, Tuesday morning FLD Mike helped me give a talk about Leader Dogs to kids attending "Kamp-K9" (put on by "Teacher's Pet," a wonderful organization for rescue dogs and kids), and later took FLD Mike to his puppy-class at Leader Dogs.

We roll into the parking lot of Station #6 just a little late.  Puppy-counselor Anna (with FLD Doug) and the other raisers and puppies are gathered around three firemen, two of whom are weighted down in firefighting gear, but we haven't missed too much.  One fireman strides off to start the firetruck in the nearby open bay.

I grab FLD Mike's leash and snap on his jacket.  It takes me a few moments more to make the short walk from the van to join the group--FLD Mike sees the other puppies and with each eager pull against his leash, we take a few steps backwards.  Sometimes loose-leash heeling is a challenge!

There aren't as many puppies tonight as there were at the Rochester outing in April.  "It's too hot," Andy offers.  Perhaps so, but there is a nice breeze and plenty of shade.

I finally settle FLD Mike on the grass along the curb.  The fireman drives the hulking yellow truck around us, blasting the horn and siren.  All the puppies are more interested in each other and pay it no mind.

Another fireman, in full gear with air-tank hissing, approaches each puppy.  Like FLD Mike, most of them are eager to play, and not at all intimidated.  One younger puppy, FLD Friday, is nervous, but that's why we're here--to help him get over his fear.  


After a few moments, Jeanette (FLD Friday's puppy-raiser) calms him down and the "scary man" can come near.

The truck is parked and one by one we pose our puppies on the front bumper for a picture.  

FLD Mike takes  his turn, but he wants another!  He jumps up a second time as soon as we get close enough.  Come on, Mike, I say, let the other dogs have a chance.

Someone suggests a group picture in front of the yellow fire engine.  It is mayhem while we situate our playful puppies.  FLD Mike sticks his snout under the arm of the young firefighter, looking for lovin'--or maybe he is trying to reach FLD Ranger!

We thank the Troy firemen for taking time to assist our Future Leader Dogs with an important exposure.  One day, when our puppies are working Leader Dogs paired with handlers, they'll need to keep their cool in case of a fire.  Of course, we hope that never happens.

Andy says to the firefighters, "I hope this is the most danger you have to face on the job tonight!"

FLD Mike falls fast asleep in the van on the now-past-rush-hour drive home.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Vacation Rambles

I know, more boring vacation stories, just what you wanted!  Well, I can't help it.  There were so many fun things that happened.  So, you'll just have to suffer through my vacation "slide show" (with commentary)....and then I'll be done.


In the space of about three weeks, FLD Mike lost his puppy fur--I plucked it out in chunks and brushed out softball-sized fur-balls.

During our camping trip I tossed these clumps in a pile next to our tent, surprised that they didn't blow away.  

The third morning, as I knelt to take these pictures, a pair of fellow campers strolled by and gave me a curious look.  I'm not sure if they thought I was nuts to be on my elbows and knees taking a picture, or if they couldn't figure out what I was taking a picture of!  FLD Mike's cast-off coat mimicked the leftovers of a midnight-wild-animal-kill.  

Let them wonder.  But I am saddened.  FLD Mike is no longer puppy-fuzz soft--his fur is coarse and way too adult-like.  Too soon he will return to Leader Dogs for the Blind.


The Humane Society of Schoolcraft County's "Pet Parade" in downtown Manistique during "Folk Fest" was not the only puppy parade that week.  My nieces had their own parade through Indian Lake Campground.

Here is Sofia with Gypsy, Natalie with FLD Mike, and Elaina with cc'd Rosie (click here to read my continuing series "The Rosie Road").


The dogs especially liked when the pup-parade brought them down to the lake for a swim.  I've witnessed no greater joy expressed than when my Gypsy-doodle is chasing a stick into the water.

FLD Mike (on the long green lead) in turn loved chasing Gypsy, while Rosie preferred to merely wade in the cool water.

(Forewarning:  some people might consider one of the following pictures to be X-rated.)

Tubing:  Andy pulls the kids.

What's the big deal about a boat ride?
FLD Mike takes a nap...

...and has no shame!

Any excuse for cake!  We celebrated two birthdays. (Rosie didn't get cake--only a new Nylabone wrapped up with treats.)

Natalie turned nine.

Rosie turned two.


Ok, no one ventured a guess as to what I "did wrong" in yesterday's second video.  I'm not sure I want to say...well, alrighty then.  What I did "wrong" was to say "OK" to FLD Mike more than ONE TIME.  Remember, when giving a command, only say the command ONCE.  If your puppy doesn't respond, physically make him/her do the command.  Repeating the command will cause your puppy to not pay attention the next time a command is given.