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Friday, October 15, 2010

My FIRST...Future Leader Dog Puppy

Today's post is in response to Sharon Wachlser's first ASSISTANCE DOG BLOG CARNIVAL.  A blog carnival is something like a magazine, in that there is a topic (Assistance Dogs), it is published periodically (this one will be quarterly), and each "issue" has a particular theme.  The blog carnival is "hosted" by a blogger (this time by Sharon Wachlser's blog "After/Gadget") who publishes links to posts submitted by other bloggers on the quarterly theme.
The theme for this fist edition is "The first..." and must relate to the "topic of guide, hearing, or service dogs."  Here is my submission!

My First...Future Leader Dog Puppy 

Two weeks ago, the trainer at our first puppy-class at Leader Dogs for the Blind talked to our group about puppy-raising.  "I know you all want to raise the very best puppy ever to return to Leader Dogs for training."

I smiled.  Heads nodded around me.

The trainer went on to reassure us that the staff and volunteers at Leader Dogs would do everything they could to help us in raising our charges.  But sometimes, well, according to the statistics, at least half of the time these puppies will be "career-changed" for reasons that might not have anything to do with how the puppy was raised.

The puppy might not pass strict physical testing.  A physical issue that may not cause any problems for years to come has the potential to shorten the working life of a Leader Dog.  It is a huge investment to bring a puppy through training to become a working Leader Dog, from the time, effort, and expense of the families who host breeding stock, the puppy-raisers, and the trainers and staff at Leader Dogs, to the handlers who hope to bond and work as a team with their Leader Dogs for as long as possible.

A puppy might not be able to control its inherent drive to chase small animals, or might not be able to resist the attention of humans.  These pups can get too stressed to concentrate on working if they are forced to override these instincts.  Dogs who cannot get past these compulsions on their own have the potential to put their handlers in harm's way, and this cannot be tolerated.

I am currently raising my third puppy for Leader Dogs, FLD Gus.  My second puppy, FLD Mike, is currently in training at Leader Dogs for the Blind.  I approached the raising of my first Future Leader Dog, a black Labrador named Rosie, with that same intent the trainer referred to above.

As an adult, I raised three dogs of my own.  I trained dogs professionally since 2004 and was fortunate to study dog-training under my friend Katie, a graduate from the National K-9 Learning Center.  I assisted Katie in developing an Obedience training program for the trainers at Invisible Fence.

I was confident.

When I brought FLD Rosie home from Leader Dogs, I was eager to apply my "dog knowledge" to raising her into the BEST puppy Leader Dogs ever saw.  I was diligent, consistent, and determined.  Rosie was an intelligent and enthusiastic puppy.

FLD Rosie before the 2008 Rochester Christmas parade.

FLD Rosie returned to Leader Dogs in July of 2009 to begin her formal training.  She passed her physicals and progressed through Leader Dogs' four phases.  In January of 2010, Rosie was ready to be paired with a handler, but according to Leader Dogs, she had a "fast pace" and a good match could not be found.  She went back to the kennels, held over for the next month's group.

Again, no match in February.  Back into "holdover" status.

In March--no match.

By the end of March, dogs and people would overly distract Rosie.  When she started relieving herself while in harness, she was "career-changed." 

As any puppy-raiser who has gotten that dreaded call from Leader Dogs can tell you, my heart sank in disappointment.  My eleven months working with Rosie, and her subsequent nine months at Leader Dogs seemed in vain.  I was frustrated with the process; I wanted Rosie to have another chance.  I felt that she was a victim of circumstances.  Could more have been done to help her to excel as a working Leader Dog?

I thought back to what the man who gave me my very first personal puppy told me when I was debating whether or not to accept the responsibility of a dog.  "They become a mirror of your mind."

He is correct, in a sense.

My disciplined and active approach to Rosie's raising channeled her inherent energy and fervor.  She needed copious amounts of exercise; I provided.  She needed something to do with her mind; I challenged her daily.  I thought she had potential.

I imagined she did wonderfully with the training she received at Leader Dogs; she did make it through the four phases after all.  The delay in finding an appropriate match for Rosie was, perhaps, in everyone's best interest.  A strong hand was necessary to keep her on task.  Without a strong hand, her "true" nature became exposed.

Dogs have funny ways of communicating.  Was Rosie's distracted behavior her way of telling the staff at Leader Dogs that she didn't want the job?  Was she frustrated because no one understood her reticence, so took to "parking" in harness to get attention?

Things turned out the way they should have turned out.  Rosie is now an energetic, but happy pet to my sister and her three young girls.

While I still strive to do the best job I can, I am more relaxed with my expectations.  I promise to provide love, care, and direction to FLD Gus until he is one years old.  If he passes his physicals, it is up to him to decide if he's up to living an exceptional life as a working Leader Dog.

Future Leader Dog GUS


  1. " is up to him to decide..."

    Yep. And it makes him (or Rosie, or Mike) no less special, nor living a less exceptional life, if he decides it is not for him. Living as a Leader Dog may just not be the way he wants to lead an "exceptional" life. xoxo

  2. This is a very inspiring and truthful story. Wish all the best to Gus and all your other pets!


  3. Thank you so much for your comment, Steve! And your good wishes.

  4. Great post and I really enjoyed reading it.
    I'm glad Rosie is happy now, and at least she made that career change before being matched with a handler.

    If you have a few minutes, it would be really interesting to hear your thoughts on my most recent blog post, since you are a professional trainer.
    Thanks :)

  5. Hi Jen! Thanks for reading my post, I'm glad you like it. I also enjoyed reading your post for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival.

    As for your post in considering a career-change, I think it's great that you are interested in learning new things! I don't see why you can't take your new idea a step at a time. You can do this without changing jobs right away. If nothing else, you will learn more about dogs and the behavior of dogs!

    I am a proponent of reading and learning as much as possible about dogs, but I also believe that "hands-on" work is the best way to get experience. You might want to consider volunteering for a local shelter as a way to get exposure to many breeds and personalities of dogs. Every dog is different, even within the same breed.

    Best of luck to you, and thanks for following! Feel free to email me for more discussion.

  6. I always like to thank a puppy raiser when I run across one, so thank you! I heard this quote on Facebook, "Inside every guide dog beats the heart of a puppy raiser". I just love that. I can't imagine how hard it is to do what you do, but without people like you, our amazing guides would never be possible. Thank you!

  7. Ro, you are welcome! I love that quote--but I suppose we need to add, "and the heart of the family who hosts the breeder mom," and then we'd have to add "and the volunteer dog walkers, and the training staff, and on and on." Guess I just need to acknowledge that I couldn't do what I do without all the others. And for those who bond as a team with the guide dog in the make our work worthwhile!

  8. I am glad your sister's family has a nice pet. I am also sad that all your good training could not have found a use in a different service dog career. We train diabetic alert dogs and it sounds like Rosie would have been PERFECT at that. They need to be attentive to the low blood sugar smell, but their diabetic (many times an energetic teenager) can do all the things you did to occupy her because the demands on the dog are so different. I wish more programs needing to "career change" would contact me or another diabetic alert program.

  9. Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I also wish that other service dog programs had a mechanism to receive career-changed dogs from Leader Dogs. When I took the call about Rosie, I asked if there were any other opportunities for her to work and they told me that no one needed a dog at that time.

    Perhaps your organization could contact Leader Dogs and work something out! Or, send me an email with more information about your diabetic alert program and I will try to pass the connection along. It sounds wonderful!

    Thanks for reading!

  10. Wow, I completely understand your disappointment that Rosie's lack of a match was due to her pace. I suppose it just has to do with timing - it's too bad she couldn't hang on a few more months for that match. As you know, I waited over a year for my second guide, and part of that wait was due to the fact that I needed a dog with a fast pace. Even though it's not what you had hoped for her, it sounds like it all ended up well in the end, with your family getting a very nice pet. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Thanks for your comment, L^2! That would have been so cool if you could have been matched with Rosie! It does seem as though timing had something to do with it, but I have no first-hand knowledge of Rosie's behavior in training or with the attempts to pair her. It seemed as though it just wasn't meant to be. And it did end up great for my nieces.

    Now I have my paws crossed for FLD Mike!

  12. Hey Patib. Sorry if that's spelt wrong. I am only getting around to reading your post for the carnival.

    That must have been extremely frustrating. I think they maybe should have tried to work her a bit more to see if they could hae resolved her issues. At the end of the day though it taught you something. If she was that much of a failure, you wouldn't have accepted another one!!

    Thank you for doing such a wonderful job.

    I just qualified about a month ago with my first guide dog Ushi.

    Take care, and keep up the good work!

  13. Hi Torie! Thanks for reading...and for commenting! I've been blogging for less than a year and it is nice to start to see feedback, especially from handlers of guide dogs!

    Congrats on your first dog, Ushi! I look forward to checking out your blog and reading more about your adventures.

    Oh, and you are welcome!