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|