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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: VARIATIONS

Fellow-blogger Erin's pertinent post from yesterday got me thinking.
Erin is currently raising Pompei, her fourth puppy for New York's Guide Dog Foundation.  (Her blog is "Pompei's Progress"--check out her post from November 29!)

Future Guide Dog Pompei is a one-year-old yellow lab.  Erin recently received news that Pompei will be with her through the holidays, his return-to-school-date extended until January.  Erin says in her post that she's been "using the 'teenage stage' excuse with Pompei" for his "annoying" behavior, but she admits that really, his behavior is the result of her complacency.  For the most part, Pompei is adapted to her daily routine and has learned the basics of what he needs to enter "college."

I understand Erin's feelings about getting "bored" with the repetition of working obedience drills.  Pompei, at a year old, is no doubt more accomplished than four-month-old FLD Gus, yet sometimes I feel like I'm just going through the motions with Gus, especially when we're stuck in the house on a crappy weather day.  How many times can I tell Gus SIT, DOWN, STAY, and LEAVE IT without the both of us losing interest?

My strategy to overcome this inertia?

Adding VARIATION to our obedience exercises.  Like I did with FLD Mike last August (here is a link to that post: 
"mind exercises"), I've integrated working FLD Gus's mind this morning as I went about some typical daily activities.


Take advantage of your puppy's natural inclination to follow you.
  • From room to room, command your puppy to SIT or DOWN and have him or her hold the position while you do whatever you are doing (changing laundry loads, for example, or straightening the kitchen).
  • Throw in a few STAYS and practice leaving your puppy in the room; remember to return to your puppy for praising!

If your puppy is able to STAY while you leave the room, practice NAME  RECOGNITION.
  • Place your puppy in a SIT or DOWN.  Give the STAY command and leave the room, just out of sight.
  • Call your puppy's name.
  • Praise and/or reward with a treat when he or she finds you.
  • Have your puppy SIT before rewarding.
  • Expand this fun exercise to more challenging places (a different room, upstairs or downstairs).
  • Lengthen the time your puppy holds the STAY.
  • You can also introduce the command COME after calling his or her name if your puppy is a master at this game!

If your puppy will hold a STAY, use a favorite toy (like a Kong or Nylabone) to introduce the command FIND IT.
  • Put your puppy in a SIT or DOWN and give the STAY command.
  • Take a few steps away and set the toy where your puppy can see it.  If your puppy tries to go to the toy right away, pick up the toy and bring your puppy back to where he or she was sitting.
  • Try again, but be ready to say FIND IT as soon as you set the toy down so you can begin to reinforce (praise) this new behavior you are teaching.
  • Repeat and repeat again!  After your puppy starts to "get it," walk away from the toy before giving the FIND IT command.
  • Eventually you should be able to place the toy out of your puppy's sight (in another room, for example, or under a towel).

If you need to sit in one location for a period of time (like when I'm writing at my desk), you have the perfect opportunity to work on SETTLE and long DOWN/STAYS.
  • Clip a leash on your puppy's collar so you don't miss "catching" him or her if you are distracted and he or she gets up to leave.
  • Have your puppy SETTLE into a down.  If your puppy is young, give your puppy a toy to chew to keep his or her interest.
  • When (not if, because he or she will) your puppy gets up, just place your puppy back into the DOWN.  You don't need to say anything.  You might have to be VERY persistent!
  • If your puppy is young, or not used to doing a long SETTLE, stay with it until your puppy "sighs" or gives a sign that her or she has given in to the settle.
  • If you absolutely need to spend the time without constantly adjusting your puppy, contain your puppy in his or her crate while you are busy.  Being able to stay quietly in a crate is also a necessary skill for our Future Leader Dog puppies!

A dreary, misty morning keeps me and FLD Gus inside today.  While Gus is not as wild-puppy-crazy as yesterday, he still has his normal morning energy.  He eagerly follows me to the basement, a place he loves to visit--I store the puppy chow here and there is always fun stuff to sniff in the corners deep behind the furnace and under the pantry shelves.

As I shift loads from dryer to hamper and from washer to dryer, I have Gus SIT, then lie DOWN.  Alternating these commands is a cute way to have him do "puppy-push-ups," but after only one or two repetitions, Gus will have no more of it.  I try STAY, and step around the water heater.  Gus immediately gets up to follow.  I put him back.  He pops up.

Never mind VARIATIONS, it looks like I have plenty of regular obedience commands to work on with FLD Gus after all!

Monday, November 29, 2010

What a Difference a Walk Makes!


FLD Gus is out of control.  He leaps up yipping high-pitched puppy-barks in front of Gypsy, who is lying peacefully on the couch, over and over again as if our round Hagopian rug is a trampoline stationed in the middle of the room.  Finally, Gypsy lashes out a warning with bared teeth.

Gus isn't fazed.  He's seen these teeth and so far, they haven't meant much more than a warning.  He keeps leaping; his tongue licks out like a snake towards Gypsy; he can't contain his need to play.

Gypsy lunges with an in-suck of air and the rip is on!

Gus flies off into the kitchen, puppy-pads scrabbling for purchase on the tile floor before he offers his right side to the patio door.  BANG!  He flips around and dashes under the kitchen table--he has to really duck his head now that he's gotten so big.  He bangs against the chair legs; it won't be long until he runs the risk of getting stuck on one of them; I visualize a "hover-chair" twirling across the room.

Gypsy stands her ground, snarling at the edge of the trampoline-rug; Gus springs by, all fours in the air then all fours on the floor, risking a snap of his jaws as he wings on; he hits the hard-wood floor and slides head first into the closet wall; he turns and repeats, this time snaking the long way around behind the rocking chair, as far away from Gypsy as he can.

FLD Gus needs a walk, bad!


Andy and I sit down to eat more turkey leftovers for lunch.  FLD Gus leisurely rises from a sunny spot by the heater vent.  Where he had been laying.  He meanders over to his mat, which is stationed between the kitchen and the living room.  His puppy-dog-belly swings from side to side with every step like his body is hinged at the waist.

He pauses.

He turns.

He carefully lowers his rear end to the mat.

His front end follows.

He leans back against the wall.

He sighs.

He gazes up at me with browning puppy-eyes.

I wonder how long he'll be able to hold his head up.

What a difference a walk makes!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

FLD Gus Goes to the Movies

An email this afternoon from my sister, Anne:  "...Sofia and Natalie are interested in the Tulip movie, if that's still an option for today."

A half-hour later, a second email from Anne:  "Both Nat and Sofia seem to be having too much fun together outside this afternoon, so neither remains interested in going to the movie.  But thanks for asking them!"

Later, post-movie, I am somewhat relieved that my nieces declined to come with us to see My Dog Tulip at the Detroit Film Theatre (DFT) in the DIA, even if it was an animated film.  I can imagine hearing their youthful tittering in the dark theater....

The husband-wife director team of Paul and Sandra Fierlinger created My Dog Tulip, the first animated film to be hand-drawn and painted completely with "high definition paperless computer technology" (quoted from the DFT's "Film Guide").  While based on J. R. Ackerley's 1956 book about his 15-year relationship with his rescued "Alsatian" (German Shepherd), the movie focused mainly on Ackerley's endeavors to "marry" the un-spayed Tulip.

The Fierlingers employed slightly different styles to depict memories of the narrator Ackerley (superbly spoken by Christopher Plummer), "real-live" time, Ackerley's imagination, and the anthropomorphizing of Tulip and her flirtations.

My nieces would have taken delight in the graphic renderings of Tulip's assorted "parking" interludes, but it is the yellow-legal-pad sketches of Ackerley's anthropomorphism that would have sent them into snicker-heaven.  I admit I might have felt slightly uncomfortable sitting next to them as Tulip, in a skirt and standing on her hind legs, was being felt up by a bar-stud-terrier who was just a little too small to connect with the goods.

As for FLD Gus, who couldn't see the screen due to his position at my feet yet whose fidgeting made me wonder if he caught on to the action, the audience heard not a giggle from him!

My Dog Tulip is entertaining (especially if you are a dog-owner) even if it should carry at least an "R" rating.  Andy was taken by Ackerley's use of the word "pusillanimous" in describing the first breed-stud who was unable to successfully "marry" Tulip.

I particularly enjoyed an amusing sequence of disastrous visits to various vets.  Ackerley finally finds a veterinarian who can handle the feisty Tulip.  When he asks the woman-vet if there is something wrong with Tulip, she says, "There is nothing wrong with her.  Tulip is a good girl.  YOU are the trouble."  This remark is one I have often wished to say to dog-owners-without-a-clue!

To view the trailer of My Dog Tulip, click on my post from last Sunday, November 21.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Student Working to Redesign Guide Dog Harnesses

Eva, an Industrial Design Student at U of I, plans to enter a "redesign" of the Guide Dog Harness into an International Housewares Student Design competition.  She recently asked a fellow blogger, Ro (her blog is "In the Center of the Roof"), for assistance in gathering pertinent information from guide dog handlers.

Eva wrote a seven question survey for handlers that Ro generously posted on her blog.  In her words (taken from Ro's blog):
Users feedback are one of the most important part in a design process. I need to know how the users feel and think to be able to put myself into their shoe...I need more of a variety of users experience that is why I made this survey.

If you are a guide dog handler and are interested in helping Eva with her project, please click on this link to Ro's blog post:

Eva's complete survey is posted here, as well as Eva's contact information.  You can either post your answers to the survey as a comment on Ro's blog, or email your answers directly to Eva (her email address is listed in Ro's blog).

I hope that my readers who work with a guide dog will take the time to answer Eva's survey.  Her project is due by the end of the year.  Hopefully we'll get an update as to what she comes up with!

Thanks in advance!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Poetry: Haiku Ice

Ice in the puddles this morning, the day after Thanksgiving, during my morning walk with FLD Gus.

"ice frost"

finger tips tingle
tucked in gloves, puddles shatter
under-boot; don't slip!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

FLD Gus, at rest.
I am thankful for...

     family and friends
     and Labrador puppies!

FLD Gus and I wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving!
The turkey, right out of the oven...YUM!

Oh yes, the meal was delicious!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

HOW Many Pounds?????

The phone rings; my heart leaps.

It's Monday evening, just before nine.  Normally I am with my nieces while my sister Anne is in class, but this week the girls are on their own.  They know I'm only a phone call away.

It's Anne.

"Something's wrong."  I hear the catch in her voice.  "Rosie's stomach is swollen.  It's huge and hard like a drum.  She's panting a little and keeps wanting to go out, but nothing happens."

I question Anne.  "No, she doesn't think Rosie ate anything unusual, she doesn't ever do that."  "No, she hasn't thrown up, but she keeps swallowing like she's going to." "Her gums?  Hmmmmm, I guess...I guess they look dark."  "No, they aren't pale."  "I'm not sure when it started, I just got home from class; the girls said she's been like this all evening."  "She just keeps pacing; she won't lie down."

I know that Rosie is an enthusiastic eater (and drinker).  I know she gets fed once per day.  I know that we recently switched her food to help control her weight.  I also know that Rosie hasn't been under any stress lately, and that she doesn't get vigorous exercise after eating, but it sure seems the signs are there.  I hate to tell Anne this, but...

It sounds like she might have "bloat."  Yes, it's very serious.  You'll need to take her to a 24-hour vet.  Call your vet's office, they should have an emergency number for you on their recording.
Of course I feel responsible.  Rosie was my first Future Leader Dog puppy.  She was career-changed after nine months at the Leader Dog School because a suitable match could not be found.  (For more about Rosie, click on the "Rosie Road" or "Rosie" label.)  I took Rosie back, knowing I couldn't keep her myself, and "kinda-sorta" talked Anne into taking her for the girls.  My nieces were thrilled when Rosie became their forever-dog, but now, they are scared.
Anne and Natalie gather Rosie and head off to the emergency vet.  I give Andy a kiss, and with a quick pet of FLD Gus and Gypsy,  I head over to be with Elaina and Sofia.  I hope that these young girls will not get an early "life-lesson" tonight.
It seems like forever before my phone rings. 
"Well, they don't think it's bloat," Anne reports.  Her voice is still worried.  "They're not sure, but in the ex-rays it looks like her stomach is full of food or something.  They're going to make her throw up and see if they can tell more."
We don't have to wait as long before my phone rings again.
"Aunt patti."  It's Natalie and I hear laughter in her voice.  What's going on?  I ask.
"Rosie threw up five pounds of food."  I hear something in the background.  "Oh wait!  She threw up some more."  There is a long pause.  I hear what sounds like nails clicking on tile.  "Rosie's fine now!"  It's Natalie again.  "She just ate too much food."  Now I am sure I hear Rosie dancing and snorting, pushing Natalie around.  Can she come home? I ask.  "Yes, Mom's paying and then we'll be home."
Elaina and Sofia can hear my conversation with Natalie (old ears need cell phones volumes on high).  A collective sigh escapes.  Sofia asks me, "Who is that saint that's for the animals?"  St. Francis of Assisi?  Why?  "When Mom left with Rosie, I went into my room and prayed to him for Rosie."
No one knows how Rosie got into her food bag that is stored in the basement stairs landing, but it is obvious that she did.  One side is open just enough to fit a lab-sized head and there is a significant indentation visible in the once-35-pounds of kibble.
Rosie barges into the house when Anne and Natalie arrive and nearly knocks me over with her squirming, tail-wagging gusto.
"What a relief!" Anne says.  "For us and for Rosie.  Everyone at the vet's office had a good laugh at our expense.  They said, 'we actually weighed it; we couldn't believe how much food came up!  We're sorry, but we'll be telling EVERYONE about this case for a long time.'"
"Guess how much, aunt patti?"  Natalie doesn't wait for me to respond.  "SEVEN POUNDS!"
Rosie ducks her head and body-blocks the half-wall in the kitchen, her nails scrabbling in vain on the slick floor and she slips onto her side, only to scuffle back up, turn around, and barge against the wall from the opposite direction.  "She's wall-wrestling!" the girls squeal.
Now that's a HAPPY (and in a much lighter weight-class) dog!
Rosie was very fortunate that her only problem was gluttony.  Bloat is a life-threatening condition in a dog.  Dog owners should be well-versed in recognizing the symptoms of bloat (much of what was evident in Rosie) because death can occur very quickly.  For more information about bloat, check out this website: 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


FLD Gus is four months old today.

I have to admit that his potty-training progress has frustrated me more than my last two Future Leader Dog puppies.  Oh--Gus never had a #2 accident in the house, and within the first two weeks he learned to signal when he felt the need, but as diligent as I have been in taking him out to "park," he still had #1 accidents long after I expected him to be able to control himself.

I took FLD Gus out whenever he woke up, got out of his crate, finished a play or training session, or drank a lot of water; I also limited his water intake late in the evening.  He did fine sleeping all night and he never messed in his crate.  Problems occurred during the day, but I couldn't figure out exactly why; he seemed to "leak" without even realizing it.

I wondered if he was drinking too much (he typically laps and laps until all the water is gone from his bowl), or if something else was going on.

When I took FLD Gus to Leader Dogs for the Blind for his last round of puppy shots on Friday, November 12, I asked Dr. Wilson what she thought.  She ruled out a physical problem since he was able to hold his bladder throughout the night.  Instead, she explained that his young muscles are still developing control; because he drinks so much his bladder fills and he probably realizes too late that he has to "park."

How much water should he drink in a day? I asked.

"A good rule of thumb is one ounce for every pound of weight," she answered, and went on to suggest that I measure out a day's worth of water in a pitcher and use the pitcher to fill his bowl.

FLD Gus weighted in at 26 pounds, so he only needed 26 ounces of water!  That's just over three glasses.  I'm sure I was filling his bowl with much more than that every day!  Dr. Wilson reminded me to be sure that Gus drinks water with his meals and when he's done playing or heated up from exercise. 

Eleven days later and I can't remember when FLD Gus had his last "accident." I've also noticed that he is more insistent in getting my attention when he has to go.  (He whines and stands by the door.)  YIPPEE!

These are the steps I've taken to help Gus gain control and eliminate accidents:
  • I still take Gus out to "park" every time he wakes up, gets out of his crate, ends a play session, or drinks from his bowl.
  • I pay closer attention to when and how much FLD Gus drinks during the day.  I fill his bowl (it holds more than eight ounces) in the morning, at least once or twice during the day, and at his evening meal.
  • When the water bowl is empty after dinner, I give Gus a small ice cube if he wants to drink.  This gives him something to play with and satisfies his thirst without taking in too much water.
  • If I can't be in the same room with him during the day, he spends time in his crate.  Of course, I take him to  "park" as soon as he comes out.
  • When I take FLD Gus to public places, he "parks" before getting into the van, when he gets out of the van, and sometimes once again before we enter the store or restaurant or other building, especially if we parked far away.  He "parks" again upon exiting, and again before going back into the house.

I probably expected too much from this little guy a little too early, but now that I'm controlling what goes IN, FLD Gus seems to be doing a better job controlling what comes OUT!

As I finished typing this post, I heard howling and desperate yipping from a crated-FLD Gus.  I took him outside and he "parked"--for a VERY long time.  Unfortunately, it is extremely windy today, and Gus's "sprinter" stance (right rear paw tucked under his belly, left rear paw stretched out behind) led to a very wet right rear paw.  I know--too much information!

FLD Gus thinks, "I'm JUST a puppy!"

Monday, November 22, 2010

When 2 + 4 = ONE

I've just sent my order in for Kathy Nimmer's new book, Two Plus Four Equals One, Celebrating the Partnership of People with Disabilities and Their Assistance Dogs.

Author and editor Kathy Nimmer, as stated on her website, is "an award-winning teacher, author, and motivational speaker," with many accomplishments.  She is a blogger (this is the link to her blog: and poet (her book, Minutes in the Dark, Eternity in the Light, was published in 2006) who also just happens to be working with her third guide dog, Elias.

Two Plus Four Equals One is a 268 page book packed with stories, poems, and photos written about and by people who work with and rely on amazing service dogs.  I, for one, can't wait to read it (and review it in a later post)!

The book can be ordered in various formats (standard book, audio MP3 CDs, PDF, or Word document) directly from her website: can also be ordered on Amazon.

The cover of Nimmer's book.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Curses, Foiled Again...

We missed the show Friday night.  Saturday night my sinuses kept us home.

This afternoon, lane closures and accidents on I-94 prevented us from getting to the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts in time.  

We hope that next weekend nothing will stop us.  And we'll take FLD Gus along to see the animated film based on J. R. Ackerley's book, We Think the World of You.  The film is titled My Dog Tulip.

Enjoy the trailer!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Lazy Saturday Afternoon

SUNDOGGIES:  Gypsy and FLD Gus soaking up the sun.

A bored FLD Gus, lying on the tile floor.

FLD Gus, outside looking in, doing a good job slobbering the patio glass.

FLD Gus howls through the glass, "Let me in!"

Friday, November 19, 2010

About One Month Later...

"Is that the same puppy that was in here a few days ago?"

I looked up from where I was on my knees perusing books on the bottom shelf in the fiction section.  A woman was busy sliding books onto the shelf a few feet away.  I recognized the librarian, but it had been more than a few days since I had FLD Gus in the main branch of the Clinton-Macomb LibraryWell, it's actually been over a month.
FLD Gus was lying next to me, sniffing book spines, attempting to chew his leash, grabbing at the zipper pull on my jacket, sneaking into my Leader Dogs for the Blind puppy-raiser "diaper bag," and otherwise not settling down as I had hoped he would.

"Wow, has he grown!"  she exclaimed.  "He's going to be a big boy."

Andy and I brought FLD Gus to this library not long after we picked him up from Leader Dogs.  The shiny floors, carpeting, and marble steps edged with a non-slip material gave Gus good exposure to different surfaces.  I recalled that he managed the three flights of stairs to the second floor without much trouble, but he struggled coming back down.

The staircase is unusual--you can see the lower level as you descend and there is a humongous planet earth suspended (and rotating) from the high ceiling--more than a little bit intimidating to a young puppy.  As I sat on a lower step to encourage FLD Gus, who balked at the top, I noticed the librarian watching us from her desk on the first floor.  Before Gus could manage to make it half-way down, she and a co-worker from the upper level converged upon us.  Gus took a welcome break while I answered their many questions; he gallantly conquered the rest of the stairs when our conversation ended.

He had no trouble with the stairs today! I told her.  She looked puzzled for a moment and then said, "Oh yes!  I remember!  He was pretty nervous.  But he's much bigger, those stairs shouldn't be a problem now."
Finally, FLD Gus settled, content to woo the nice librarian with his turning-brown puppy-eyes and a tail that whapped the floor like it was connected to a motor.  Good settle, Gus!
This library incident happened last night.  This afternoon, I took FLD Gus with me to the commissary at Selfridge ANG to pick up our turkey for next Thursday's dinner.

"Is that a new dog?

I looked up from putting my groceries on the checkout conveyor.  The checkout manager stood tippy-toed beyond the next lane, trying to catch of better glimpse of FLD Gus, who was waiting patiently next to my cart in a slippery-sit on the glossy tile floor.

Yes, I answered, well, I had this one here not too long ago...

"No," she said, "your other one was a lot bigger.  I thought this one was new."

Yep.  The other one is in training back at Leader Dogs.  We hope he gets placed with someone in February.

"What's this one's name?"

I smiled.  (Remember my "Top Ten Questions" post last Wednesday?)  His name is Gus.  He's just over three months old.  I wanted to head her off; I had already answered many of these same questions as I shopped.

"He's doing good!"  she said and turned to go back to work.

Thanks!  Nothing like a two-mile walk to calm my puppy down before taking him out to the store!  Good boy, Gus!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

FLD Gus, Soccer Mascot

FLD Gus is a soccer fan.

Last night he attended his first indoor game of my niece Elaina's team, "Dynamite."  It was an awesome, fast-paced game, and everyone was amazed at the ball-handling skills of these "dynamite" players--both teams!

#14 Elaina, in control of the ball.

FLD Gus remained calm, in spite of cheers, buzzers, whistles, and bodies banging against the boards.   (He did need help negotiating the imposing metal stands to get to our seats.)

Unlike FLD Mike, who typically napped through the excitement, Gus occupied himself with a toy (until it fell through a crack in the bleachers), watched the game and all the spectators, and enjoyed cleaning what he could reach of the metal bench.

FLD Gus in the bleachers, paw placed firmly on his toy before it fell through the crack.

My throat is still scratchy from all the cheering--thanks, Dynamites, for a great game!  (Even though the Dynamites lost 4-3, it was a joy to watch.)

Elaina and team Dynamite congratulate the opposing team.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Good Boy Gus

Something wakens me.

I shift position; or rather, I try to shift position.  Gypsy is lying on my feet, her sleeping weight impossible to budge.  I settle back to listen.  The rain has stopped but wind is rattling the siding.  Now I know why Gypsy is here in bed and not on the couch as usual.

I twist toward the nightstand to see the backlit time of my seldom-set-alarm clock.  It's not quite 6:00 am.  As I re-engage my pillow I hear something else below the din of the wind.

It's FLD Gus, downstairs, thunking a knucklebone Nylabone against the plastic tray in his crate.  I sigh.  He crapped out pretty early last night after rough housing with cc'd Rosie while I watched the girls; I knew I wouldn't be sleeping in this morning.

I wait.  First the toy-thunks, then the whine.

Right on cue, FLD Gus whimpers.

I kick Gypsy off my feet; she merely curls herself against Andy's legs.  I slide out of the warm covers, wrestle with my clothes in the dark, and hope I get downstairs before Gus barks.  That's the next thing he does to get my attention.

Gus stops whimpering and doesn't bark.

I wonder--did my shifting wake him?  Or did his clunking around in his crate wake me?  No matter, I'm taking him out to "park."

Once out the front door, Gus wastes no time.  He squats in his sprinter's stance before he notices the rabbit just a few paces away.  His eyes are fixed; the bunny doesn't budge.  It's as if we three are frozen in time as Gus's river flows, a faint rise of steam off the frosted grass.

He's done and turns to get a better view.  The rabbit is as large as Gus's body, the biggest one I've seen around here lately.  A second, smaller bunny, several feet beyond the first, hops away.  I didn't see this one until it jumped.  I tighten my hold on Gus's leash, in case he decides to take chase.  I'm surprised when he drops into a sit.  His movement triggers the big rabbit to spring and the two disappear in the dark.

FLD Gus stays in his sit and watches them go.

Good boy, Gus! I praise.  He glances over his shoulder at me, gets up, sniffs around, and finishes his "park."
When we come back inside I unclip the leash and say, Gus, kennel up!  He barrels over to his crate, leaps in and whips around, looking for his treat.  Good boy!  I toss in a few morsels of his food and head back upstairs to bed.
He gives me another hour.  Good boy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: STAY

When I taught Obedience with private clients (and their dogs), the command STAY meant that the owner went out of their dog's sight and the dog had to hold his or her position until the owner returned.  Because the commands SIT and DOWN are "implied" stays (the dog cannot get up from either of these until he or she is released with an "OK" or are given another command), progressing to STAY is straightforward and fairly easy.

Just don't advance too quickly...


Introduce an "implied" STAY from a heel with both the SIT and DOWN position.  Work the SIT first, and then add the DOWN.
  1. With your puppy in a SIT position from a heel, take a short step to your right.  Do not say anything.  If your puppy gets up, calmly step back and put him/her back into a SIT.  If your puppy doesn't get up, praise your puppy ("Good sit!") and return to your heel position.
  2. Once your puppy consistently holds the SIT when you take a step to the side, take the side step and add another step forward.  Again, if your puppy gets up, return to your original position and put him/her back into the SIT.  Repeat until your puppy consistently holds the SIT.
  3. Eventually, you should be able to work your way totally around your puppy, one step at a time!
  4. Start to increase the distance you step away until you can move all the way to the end of the leash without your puppy breaking the SIT.

Introduce STAY (not from a heel position) in a controlled place, with few distractions, preferably indoors.  Start with the SIT and progress to the DOWN.
  1. Put your puppy in a SIT on his/her mat, or in the living room--somewhere that will eventually allow you to move out of his/her view within just a few steps.
  2. If you want to teach hand signals, hold your hand out with your fingers together like you are gesturing "stop."  Say "STAY" to your puppy and take a few steps away toward the place where you can get out of view (but don't go out of view yet).  Like the exercise above, if your puppy pops up, put him/her back into the SIT and try again, but don't step away so far--just take one step and return to praise your puppy.  "Good stay!"
  3. Repeat the "step-aways" (remaining in view) until your puppy is consistently holding the SIT.
  4. The first time you step out of sight, return to view quickly, go to your puppy and praise (or treat) him/her for remaining in position.
  5. Gradually lengthen the time you are out of view.  If your puppy keeps following you when you get out of sight, the distance is too great.  Try putting your puppy in a SIT closer to where you will be able to move out of sight and try again.
  6. Do this STAY exercise in different locations.  When your puppy STAYS reliably, you can add distractions.

  • Don't step away too slowly or carefully--be relaxed and move at a normal pace.  If you act too cautious, your puppy will tend to become suspicious and unsure and will want to follow you.
  • Do NOT progress until your puppy is CONSISTENTLY holding his/her position.
  • Be careful not to over-praise your puppy and instigate a "pup-up!"
  • Mix things up.  Heel, heel with a sit, heel and stop without a sit, heel and sit, then step away, etc.
  • If you have a Future Leader Dog puppy, always say your puppy's name before giving the command.
  • Always end your training session on a positive!  If your puppy seems to be "regressing," return to something he/she knows well and end there.
  • Release your puppy with an "OK!" at the end of the session so he/she will know the exercise is over.

FLD Gus, holding a STAY on his mat.  Notice the corner to the left--I can easily step out of sight.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Morning Mayhem

I hear a deep-throated complaint from Gypsy, followed by a shrill warning bark.  It's morning.  FLD Gus bounces backwards, all four feet airborne.  He plops into a play-bow, pink tongue lapping wildly as he rock-and-rolls around the grouchy brown dog.

"Come on," he gestures with a squiggling black body of puppy-power, "let's play!"

Gypsy will have none of this; she howls at him again.  Gypsy, quiet! I whisper.  With these two, my neighbors won't need an alarm clock.

FLD Gus twirls his enthusiasm to me.  "Yippee!  You're up!"

Earlier (5:00 am!), I took Gus out to "park," sent him packing back into his crate, then returned to bed for as much time as I could wrangle.  About an hour later I heard Andy grinding beans; he took both dogs out a second time while his coffee brewed.  When he came back in with them, there was no more sleeping.

Gus, where's your toy?  Find it! I say.  There is a soft puppy-Nylabone lying on the floor behind him.  I point.  Gus turns, spots his tail instead and it's off to the races!  I retrieve the toy and say, Gus, sit.  He sits, swaying a bit from his tail-chasing.  Good sit.  Gus, down.  Inch-by-inch his front paws measure him down, eyes locked on the toy in my right hand.

Gus.  Take it.  He lunges and I just barely pull my fingers free.

FLD Gus tosses the toy in the air but misses catching it.  He pounces.  "Got it!"  As he zips away, I notice a small red spot on the light-green carpet.

Gus!  He scampers back to me with his head high, jaws snapping intently on the Nylabone.

Gus. Settle.  I cradle the exuberant critter in my lap, grasp the toy, and gently draw his lower lip back to sneak a peek.

Andy, I call.  Gus lost his first tooth!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


In a take-off from my top ten list of things strangers ask me (see my post from Wednesday, November 10, 2010), here is a list of things people say (without prompting) when I am out and about with my Future Leader Dog puppy Gus.

10.  (Overheard)  I didn't know they let dogs in here.

9.  Hey puppy, puppy, puppy!

8.  He smells my dog (as FLD Gus is straining against his leash to sniff them).

7.  My daughter (or son, cousin, friend, grandpa...) has a black (or yellow or chocolate) lab.

6.  I couldn't do that--I couldn't give them up!

5.  What a cute puppy!

4.  I lost my dog recently.  OR:  We had to put our dog down last week.

3.  Awwwwwww....

2.  He reminds me of my dog, (insert name here).

And the number one comment, without fail, is:


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Puppy Update II

FLD Mike is now in Phase 2 training at Leader Dogs for the Blind!

There are four phases, each about four weeks in duration.  
  • FIRST PHASE.  The Future Leader Dogs are introduced to working in a harness on quiet streets, learning basic commands.
  • SECOND PHASE.  Additional commands are taught in more complex situations.  (Good luck, Mike!)
  • THIRD PHASE.  Country work, and busier urban areas.
  • FOURTH PHASE.  This is the most challenging phase.  The dogs must master all situations, including overhead obstacles, many cars, in all environments.
After being matched with their blind or visually-impaired handler, the Leader Dogs live with their new person in the apartments at Leader Dogs for three and a half weeks.  The handlers to learn how to care  for and work with their new partner.  If the handler agrees, the puppy-raiser can meet the new team!

Keeping our paws crossed, FLD Mike!  You've come a long way, with more to come.

FLD Mike--first day home.

FLD Mike--his last night with us.

FLD Gus got his last puppy-shots yesterday at the vet clinic at Leader Dogs for the Blind.  All is fine and he is growing fast--26 pounds!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Night MAT Dance!

Here is a video of FLD Gus strutting his stuff...and learning to go to his MAT, wherever I move it!




Thursday, November 11, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: "Year of the Dog"


-by Shelby Hearon
 2007, University of Texas
 ISBN-13:  978-0-292-71469-4

Caution:  The year-long process of raising a guide-dog puppy is the backdrop for Shelby Hearon's recovering-heart + new-relationship tale, Year of the Dog.  However, if you are interested in becoming a volunteer puppy-raiser for a guide dog school, or are currently raising one, the puppy-raising details in this book may prove to be a disappointment.

Janey Daniels, Hearon's twenty-something protagonist, takes a year-long sabbatical from her pharmacist job in the small, South Carolina town where she grew up to escape the town's incessant gossip after her divorce.  Janey flees to Vermont, home of her long estranged and secretive Aunt May, and plans to occupy her year raising Beulah, a yellow-lab puppy for Companion Dogs for the Blind (a fictional school).

In a scene reminiscent of the Jim Beam Whiskey television commercial where guys "rent" puppies in order to pick up women (click on this link to view the commercial:, Janey meets high-school teacher James Maarten at the local dog park.  James is caring for one of his student's dog.  "The kids tell you, You want to meet someone, get a dog." James tells her on page seven.

Of course, it wouldn't be a story if Janey and James didn't juggle their respective past lives to overcome personal loss, and go on to explore a relationship together.  Along the way, mysteries are solved, and in spite of not much effort from Janey, Beulah grows up.

Beulah seems to function as an "accessory" in Janey's life; not once does Hearon depict the mischievous antics of an adolescent lab, or the frustrations of a first-time puppy-raiser (Janey has never owned a dog!)  Details of raising a guide-dog puppy feel "dropped" into the story, as if Hearon wanted to add authenticity instead of adding metaphoric depth.

Yet, this "authenticity" doesn't ring true to me, a third-time puppy-raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind.  For example, at the "Puppy Social" described on pages 50-53, the future guide dogs have "free-time" after some basic obedience exercises and play with tennis balls and balls of yarn.  We do not allow our Future Leader Dog puppies to play with tennis balls or yarn!

When I take my Future Leader Dog puppy out in public, he must always wear his "working" vest or bandana.  In Year of the Dog, Beulah doesn't wear her working uniform all the time in public.  At a scene on page 180, Janey and James enter a New York restaurant and Janey removes Beulah's vest, "deciding the cafe' looked as if it would welcome her without a vest."

While it is clear that Hearon did some research into guide-dog puppy-raising, I can't imagine that she had first-hand knowledge as a puppy-raiser. 

Year of the Dog is a fun and quick read, but if you are looking for advice or training tips for raising a future guide dog, you'll do better by actually volunteering--and raising your own Future Leader Dog!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


When I'm out and about with my Future Leader Dog puppy Gus, strangers ask me questions.  Here are the top ten.

10.  Doesn't he ever just get to be a dog?

WHAT I SAY:  Of course.  When his bandana (or jacket) is off, he isn't working and he can play.  He can play with other dogs and we play with him at home.  There are some games, though, that we don't play with him, like tug-o-war, wrestling, or fetch.  We don't want him to become obsessed with chasing things.

9.  How long do you have him?

WHAT I SAY:  Until he is a year old.

8.  How do I get one?

WHAT I SAY:  You can volunteer to raise a puppy for Leader Dogs; they are in desperate need of puppy-raisers.  Just go on their website: and fill out an application!  (In an aside I add:  If your puppy gets "career-changed" you get to keep him!)

7.  Can you come over and train my dog?

WHAT I SAY:  Sure.  But I won't be a volunteer--you'll have to pay me.

6.  How do you get him to stay so calm?

WHAT I SAY:  Well, there are lots of exercises we do to help our puppy "settle" and learn to be calm.  OR:  Well, a tired puppy is a good puppy!

5.  How old is it?

WHAT I SAY:  HE is just over (______) months.

4.  What's its name?

WHAT I SAY:  HIS name is Gus. 

3.  Is it a lab?

WHAT I SAY:  Yes, HE is a black lab.

2.  How can you give him up?

WHAT I SAY:  It IS hard to give them up, but I can.  I keep that thought in the back of my mind all year and appreciate every day I have with him.  Anyway, raising a puppy for Leader Dogs for the Blind is more about "giving," and someday, hopefully, he will make a big difference in someone else's life.

...and the number one question I get asked when I'm out and about with my Future Leader Dog puppy Gus is...


WHAT I SAY:  Thank you for asking!  If he stays sitting and calm, sure.

When the "dive-bombers" don't even ask and go right for my puppy:

WHAT I SAY:  Please don't pet my puppy, he's working.

When I say OK, but ask them to help me train my puppy with a proper MEET & GREET and after telling them what to do, they don't do it and instead point and wave their finger at my puppy's open mouth and keep telling him to "sit, sit, no, sit!"

WHAT I SAY:  Well, maybe now is not a good time to pet him.

When they say, with their hand completely in my puppy's mouth, "No, that's ok, I don't mind (if he bites me)."

WHAT I SAY:  No, it is NOT ok.  He needs to learn he cannot do that.  Thank you for asking, but I don't think you should pet my puppy right now...can you see how excited he is getting? 

What are some of the questions you get asked when you are in public with your Future Leader Dog puppy?  Or Leader Dog?