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Thursday, October 7, 2010

FLD Gus Goes to the Academy

Who wants to be a puppy-raiser when they grow up?  I ask Mrs. Smith's third-grade class.
FLD Gus in class.

A forest of hands reach for the sky.  "I do!  I do!"  It is unanimous.  

FLD Gus turns out to be an outstanding ambassador for Leader Dogs for the Blind.


FLD Gus and I arrive at Warren's Great Oaks Academy about 20 minutes early.  Heeling a nine-week-old puppy on a loose-leash requires a bit of backwards walking, so entering a building is never a straightforward proposition.

The office personnel "awe" and coo over Gus in his "Future Leader Dog" bandana as we check in.  "Mrs. Smith's classroom is on the second floor.  Go through those doors, turn left to take the stairs, and her room is right at the top."  Great, I think to myself, more practice on stairs.

Gus.  Sit,  I say.  Gus sits and looks up at me.  Good boy!  Gus. Heel.  I take the first step, and Gus navigates with me.  He stays next to me almost all the way up the first flight--not too fast and not too slow.  With a few steps to go, Gus slips on the shiny, slippery surface and stops.  He won't go any further.  I crouch down and tap my fingers on the step ahead, coaxing him to continue.  His eyes dart to my fingers and back to me as if he's trying to decide what to do.  Suddenly he leaps forward.  I use the leash to prevent his attack on the last steps and he settles back into a nice heel.  The second flight poses no problem.

A third-grade boy rushes out of the door at the top, takes one look at FLD Gus, sticks his head back into the classroom to announce, "They're here!"  I hear a clamor beyond him.  Mrs. Smith pokes her head around the door and asks us to wait down the hall until the other two classes of third-graders come up to stairs to join her class.

The hallway is full of students and staff and everyone is curious about the 13.5-pound puppy at the end of my leash.  FLD Gus is curious, too, but content to sit close and watch.  I take the opportunity to work on Name Recognition.  Gus's lunch is in a treat-bag on my belt and he amazes his audience by looking up at me every time I say Gus.

Finally, FLD Gus and I enter Mrs. Smith's classroom.  The "awwwwwwes" from all the children wash over us.  These third-graders have been reading "Rugby and Rosie" so I have a marvelous place to  begin my talk. 

My name is patti, and I am a volunteer puppy-raiser with Leader Dogs for the Blind.  This little guy is Future Leader Dog Gus.  He is my third puppy.  Can you believe that my first puppy's name is Rosie?! 

I show pictures of Rosie, Mike, and Gus and answer many insightful questions.  These kids want to know EVERYTHING about Leader Dogs:  what breeds do we use, what happens when I bring the puppy back to Leader Dogs, what do I have to teach Gus, what about taking him on a plane or train?

One little girl asks how our puppies feel when we bring them back to Leader Dogs, "Don't they miss you?"  I explain how it doesn't take long for the puppy to adjust with the help of the many loving people at Leader Dogs.  It is much harder on us puppy-raisers than it is on the puppies, I answer.  But we also understand how what we do helps someone else.  And besides, we can always get a new puppy to raise!

If you haven't read the book, "Rugby and Rosie," I recommend that you do.  Much of the story is focused on the little boy who helps to raise the yellow lab, Rosie, and how sad he is when he has to say good-bye.

FLD Gus is being as patient as a young pup can be during all of this.  I say Gus, and reward him when he looks at me; I explain Name Recognition to the class and its importance when Gus becomes a Leader Dog.  I demonstrate how well he can SIT and how I am teaching him to lie DOWN.  I illustrate SETTLE when I put my foot on his leash so he cannot jump up.  All of this is excellent training for Gus in a new environment with distractions.

About a half-hour into my presentation, FLD Gus gets fidgety and whines.  I entice him with a Nylabone when he starts to chew on the leash, but his whines turn into escalating "yips."  I think, he has to "park."  (It is always fun to explain "park," especially when my puppy has to go!)  Mrs. Smith says, "Ok, just ONE more question," but the third-graders aren't too happy about ending our meeting.   

Let me take him out.  I'll carry him so I can get back quickly.  Can everyone be quiet while I take Gus to park?  I ask the class.  A resounding "YES!"

FLD Gus parks successfully, our presentation continues, and at the end, the students file past Gus for a pet.  I try a new technique that we learned at puppy-class on Tuesday.  I hold a peanut-butter-loaded Kong and when Gus licks it instead of trying to puppy-nip petting hands, I reward him with his food.  My scheme works great--no hands get nipped!

Thank you, Mrs. Smith, and the third-grade classes at Great Oaks Academy!  FLD Gus and I had a great time. 
FLD Gus and I, surrounded by Mrs. Smith's third-grade class.


  1. What a great experience--for FLD Gus and for the students!

  2. Yes, and luckily this was not a peanut-butter-free classroom!