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Friday, April 30, 2010

Poetry: "4:15 am"

In honor of "Poetry Month" (April), here is another FIB in my Leader Dog Poem series.  This is a typical occurrence when we suffer through the potty-training phase.

4:15 am

in my
back pulls me
out of bed to pee
now I’m outside with the puppy

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Rosie Road, part 5 Finding Leader Dogs for the Blind

Miley was back with her family.  I was still in "puppy lust," maybe more so after my two weeks with sweet little Miley.  I didn't think I could wait until "Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo" in May before adopting a puppy.

Back to searching.  Click, click, click of the mouse and soon I'm lost in the tentacles of the World Wide Web.

What's this?  Somehow I land on the Leader Dogs for the Blind website.  This organization is not far from my home; over the years I've watched the campus expand and modernize.

Click, click, click and here is information about adopting a "career-changed" (cc'd) dog.  I knew someone who had adopted a cc'd Leader Dog--maybe this is what I should do.  Looks like so many people want to adopt one of these dogs that Leader Dogs is not even taking applications right now!

Click, click, click.  Raise a puppy. Hmmmmmm....  Andy!

We talk it over.  Well...I rationalize to Andy why raising a puppy for Leader Dogs for the Blind is the absolute best thing for me to do.  I want to adopt every puppy I see; raising a Leader Dog puppy meant that I could raise one, turn it in, and start with another one.  I will practice my dog-training skills, learn new techniques, and  help someone to boot!  How could we lose?  If Gypsy cannot tolerate a new addition, we are not committed to a lifetime with a dog--after turning in the puppy I wouldn't have to raise another one.

With Andy's consent, if not his blessing, I submit my application.  And wait.  Gypsy might have something else to say about it...


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Turning a Frown into a Smile

When I read how a Leader Dog has enriched a vision-impaired person's life (like Fernando, whose story you can read here on the Leader Dogs for the Blind website), I am reminded of how often these four-legged furry creatures seem able to read our minds, or at least, our body language.  Whether working dogs or pets, they often know exactly when we need a slopsy kiss, an attentive playmate, or just a quiet listener.

One "angel" dog I had the pleasure to own was a lab/beagle mix (we think) named Stoker.  (A stoker is the person riding on the second seat of a tandem, or two-seater, bicycle.)  Her best talent was making everyone she met feel like they were her best friends. 

Stoker also had an aptitude for nursing.  When one of our high-school employees suffered a closed-head injury in a car accident, Stoker stayed by her side for two weeks while she recovered.  Stoker frequently accompanied me to a nursing home to visit an MS patient who was in hospice care; Stoker would lay calmly at the foot of the hospital bed while I gave the patient a massage.

I know that my first Leader Dog puppy, Rosie, had worked hard during her time at the Leader Dog School and was capable and eager to enhance someone's life.  I was disappointed when a match could not be found for her and she was career-changed; however, when she went home with my sister, I knew Rosie finally realized her calling--taking care of three girls (and their mother).  I am pleased to report that after less than one month with her new family, Rosie is exhibiting competence for her new avocation.

Natalie, my eight-year-old niece, wasn't having a very good day.  Nothing soothed her; according to her mother, she had an "attitude."  Natalie paced the house from room to room.  At her heels, all day long, Rosie shadowed her, dog-nails clicking on the kitchen linoleum, pads silent on the carpeted hallway down to the bedroom, back up the hallway to the living room, around the foyer to the kitchen; nails tic-tic-ticking again, then pads quiet back down the hallway to the bathroom where Rosie sat and waited when the door closed against her nose.
Natalie emerged, at last, and pushed past Rosie; Rosie trailed Natalie to the shoebox by the front door.  Natalie sat down on the floor to put on her shoes so she could go outside where Rosie couldn't follow.

Rosie plunked down in front of her girl and placed her paws on Natalie's legs as if to say, "You're not going anywhere."

Natalie paused.  She diffidently raised a hand to scratch Rosie's head as if to reply, "Ok, here, I'll pet you, now leave me alone."

Rosie nuzzled Natalie's ear, sniffed, and licked her cheek.  Before long, two arms slipped around Rosie's neck and Natalie's frown turned into a smile.

Nice job, Rosie!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010



I say his name once as he's exploring the living room at the end of his leash.  I wait.  If he doesn't look at me, I poke his side with my finger to get his attention.  As soon as his eyes meet mine, I slip him a morsel of his breakfast (I always set aside a bit of food from each meal to use as treats throughout the day).

Good boy, Mike!  I let him go back to exploring.

Mike.  His head whips around.  Treat.  And repeat.

We call this game "name recognition," a nifty technique to catch your puppy's attention in distracting situations.  As with any command you teach your puppy, success depends on repetition and consistency, with broad and progressive application.

Start indoors with no distractions with your puppy on-leash.  It is important that you only say your puppy's name ONCE; if you say the name over and over you are teaching your puppy to NOT LISTEN to you.  If he or she does not respond promptly, give the leash an easy tug and/or touch your puppy with your finger--be ready to offer a treat as soon as your puppy looks at you.  Timing is everything--it won't take long for your puppy to figure out what to do to get that treat!

HINTS (for training any command)
  • Puppies have short attention spans, so only work him or her for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
  • End the session on a positive when your puppy does the right thing.
  • Remember to give the release command, "OK," when you are finished.  Your puppy needs to learn when he or she is expected to "work" and when it is "ok" to play.
  • Give your puppy at least a one-hour break between sessions--otherwise you can work him or her as much as you want.  Sometimes, when it seems your puppy just isn't "getting it," a break helps; when you return to the command, your puppy will have had time to process what he or she has learned.
  • Puppies do not generalize.  This means that just because your puppy can follow the command in your living room, it does not mean that your puppy can do so in the kitchen.  Practice in different settings.
  • Practice progressively.  By this I mean to practice the command in different settings at similar distraction levels, working up to higher-level distractions.  Begin with low-level distractions (none); when your puppy is reliable with no distractions in various settings, add some medium-level distractions (other people in the room, someone knocking on the door, etc.) in those settings.  Expect to backtrack until your puppy refigures the game; then up the ante by adding high-level distractions.  Expand into more distracting settings, such as outside, or in public places.

The name recognition game can be expanded off-leash.  Again, start indoors with little distractions--have someone hold your puppy while you hide from view.  Call your puppy's name and have the handler let him or her go.  When your puppy finds you, make it a "party" and present a treat.  Or, let someone else call your puppy.  My nieces played this game with FLD Mike when he was just a couple of months old.  What a riot watching him zoom around the house trying to find them!

Monday, April 26, 2010

FLD Mike vs Rosie

Watching the various personalities of the Future Leader Dogs at our recent puppy outing at Rochester's Fire Station #1 last week reminded me of the differences between Rosie (my first Leader Dog puppy, now career-changed) and Mike (my current FLD).

This picture of Rosie and Mike the day Rosie came home from Leader Dogs after being career-changed, depicts their contrasting demeanour.  Rosie is edgy, ready to leap up--notice the tautness in her legs, her whole body seems to be trembling.  Mike, on the other hand, is relaxed, almost subdued, content to wait to see what happens next.

My always-supportive hubby, Andy, takes the dogs out one at a time first thing in the morning so I can linger in bed a bit longer.  We live in a townhouse without a backyard, so this means he walks the dogs on a leash around our common area and picks up after them.  A good habit to have as we never develop an overwhelming clean-up task.  Afterwards, the fun starts!

Mike plods upstairs and peeks his head around our bedroom door to check if I'm awake.  If I am, he meanders in for a butt-rub.  If I'm sleeping (or pretending to be asleep), he sneaks away looking for trouble.

Rosie bounded up the stairs, raced into our bedroom, hit the rug at the side of the bed, her paws frantically trying to gain purchase as the rug slid on the slippery hardwood floor.  She smashed into the nightstand, occasionally recovering enough to leap up and over my head, jumping off the other side of the bed and back around, begging to be scratched and petted, wiggling over onto her back to get her belly rubbed.  If I wasn't awake before these shenanigans, I surely was after!

My dog Gypsy, and each FLD, know they have to SIT and WAIT for the OK to eat.  I feed Gypsy, a much slower eater, first.  (That's Rosie in the picture to the right, eyes zeroed in on the food bowl.)

Mike waits patiently, sometimes even dropping to a DOWN in the hopes that he'll be released sooner.  Rosie scampered about in little circles before finally settling down to a SIT.

Mike runs to his bowl to eat earnestly, savoring every bite.  Rosie bolted to her bowl to inhale her food.

Mike finishes before Gypsy, just barely.  Rosie ALWAYS beat Gypsy.  Both lurk behind Gypsy until she finishes, then get to work sanitizing her bowl, just in case she missed a morsel.

After breakfast, FLD Mike is happy to curl up over the register for a nap.  On Sundays, when Andy and I take him with us for our breakfast at Yorgo's, we just go.

After breakfast, CC'd Rosie was ready to rock and roll.  In self-defense on Sundays (before heading to Yorgo's), I walked Rosie the one mile down to Gratiot to tire her out a little (remember, a tired puppy is a good puppy).  Here Andy would meet us with the van to drive the rest of the way.

Heeling without pulling the leash is one of the most important skills we puppy-raisers must teach our Future Leader Dogs.  We are instructed to walk backwards immediately whenever we feel tension on the leash.  The dog instinctively wants to go forward; the dog learns that he/she cannot advance unless the leash is loose.

The slower I walk Mike in a heel, the easier he plods at my side.  As we pick up the pace he trots ahead to the end of the leash, but backs off as soon as he feels tension.  Andy enjoys walking Gypsy with me and  FLD Mike.

When Rosie was first learning to heel, she'd lag behind, plant her front paws out stiff-legged, bow her head, and refuse to move.  Lots of coaxing would get her to follow but then she'd rush ahead,  practically yanking my arm from its socket!  Eventually she improved, but I was always on alert, quick to take steps backwards.  Andy avoided walking with me and Rosie--he dislike waiting as we backwards walked.

The picture on the right is Andy walking Rosie (on a very nice loose leash) at a FLD puppy outing on the boardwalk in downtown Mt. Clemens.

SIT is the first command we puppy-raisers teach our Future Leader Dog puppies, beginning at meal-time the very first day they come  home with us.  It's never too early to start, and they learn quickly.

SIT. Mike's head cocks, as if he is spelling "S...I...T" to himself to make sure he understands the command.  His butt eases to the floor, frequently sliding on to a DOWN.

The picture on the left is of FLD Mike in a SIT while riding in the van.

SIT.  Rosie sits.  Her butt pops up, ready for the next command.

FLD Mike is a very laid-back puppy, although he does have his moments of "puppy rips."  Rosie was always raring to go.  Despite their differences, both Mike and Rosie are happy, eager to please, and intelligent black labs.  It's been a pleasure raising them!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sirens and Firefighters

FLD Mike and I pull into Rochester Hills Fire Station #1, running late as we seem to do these days trying to avoid Michigan's spring roadside sprouts (orange barrels).  Gathered around the open bay doors of the station is a huge pack of Future Leader Dogs and their puppy-raisers.  Mike senses the excitement in the air.  He sits up from his place on the passenger-side floorboard, straining to sneak a peek out the window.

We've come to another FLD puppy outing; this time to expose our pups to the imposing sights and sounds of fully geared firefighters and their rigs.  Because our FLDs must be comfortable on any type of stairs, we'll also walk up the open-grate steps in the fire-training tower.

As we mingle, I am once again impressed with the demeanor of these specially chosen dogs, even as their distinct personalities are expressed through varying degrees of self-control.  None of these puppies are particularly distressed when the fire truck sirens, bells, horns, and whistles blast.  Each of them sniffs the garbed firemen with interest, not fear.  The steel stairs intimidate some of the puppies, but their raisers help them manage.  The FLDs are more distracted by each other than the staged hullabaloo around them!


No one rushes off at the end of the outing. We linger, taking pictures of our Future Leader Dogs with the brave firefighters of Rochester Station #1, whose smiles we could finally enjoy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Rosie Road, part 4 Miley's Report Card

Miley's time at patti's "puppy boot-camp" was over; our training pact was two weeks.  Her little persons couldn't stand to have Miley away any longer so she was going home.


Crate Behavior     A+
Miley never had an accident in her crate.  She stays calm and quiet in her crate and sleeps almost through the night.

Potty Training     B
Miley is on her way to understanding that her potty-place is OUTSIDE, and NOT in the house.  She runs to the door when she has to poop, but her teeny, tiny bladder sometimes take her (and me) by surprise.

Freedom in the House     C
Miley did not graduate into full access through the house.  She is still restricted to the kitchen, with supervised forays allowed in the living room.  Upstairs and downstairs are still off-limits, until she  proves she can be trusted.

Commands     B-
Miley knows these commands:  SIT, WAIT, DOWN, and OK.  She sits and waits patiently for the "OK" release before her three daily meals.  When I say "DOWN" she drops to her belly, her eyes keen for a "treat."  (I use morsels of her food as treats.)  She almost "ROLLS OVER" on command, but she needs lots of practice to master this.

Do NOT expect Miley to "COME" when you call her--this is an advanced, off-leash command that is accomplished only after she can do every command on-leash.  For now, work on "name recognition."  When she is on-leash near you, say her name (once), and give her a treat when she looks at you.  Eventually you can extend this into a game of "hide-and-seek"--hide from her, call her name, and give her a treat when she finds you (make her sit first).  This exercise sets the stage for the COME command.

Miley is a sweet puppy who is eager to please and enthusiastic to learn.  She is almost "housebroken" but will need continued close supervision and strong leadership or she will regress.

Information about her breed, the Yorkshire Terrier:  the Yorkie breed is of the "terrier" group--intelligent "natural born killers" bred to hunt rats.  You must be careful to treat Miley like a DOG, not a baby, or she will become a victim of the dreaded "little dog syndrome."

Thanks for the opportunity to work with Miley; I thoroughly enjoyed her.  To insure her continued success, please follow my recommendations spelled out in my article PUPPY POTTY TRAINING step one and step two

I suspected Miley's humans would find it difficult to follow-up with consistency; this was not their first attempt to add a canine to their family.  Secretly, I hoped their frustration would lead to giving up on her, in which case I would gladly give Miley a new home.  I had become attached to the cute little terrier!

In the end, it was best that Miley stayed with her girls, or I would never have become a puppy raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Do You Have What it Takes?

Puppy raisers needed!!!
Last night, FLD Mike and I attended our "Beyond Basics" puppy class at Leader Dogs for the Blind. Here we learned that the organization is in dire need of new puppy raisers.  If you yearn to make a difference in someone's life, if you love dogs and want to learn more about training them, if you want to meet people (wherever you take your Future Leader Dog you are never alone!), if you are able to commit the time and energy necessary to raise a confident, happy, and friendly dog, then this is your opportunity!  Go to Leader Dog's Puppy Raiser Application site and apply now.  You will never regret it.

FLD Mike and I, like other puppy-raisers for Leader Dogs for the Blind, are assigned a "puppy-counselor."  Our puppy-counselor, Nance, is raising her 12th Future Leader Dog puppy, a female yellow lab named Sunny (that's her in the picture).  Nance also hosts a golden retriever breeding mom, Koni.  Koni has produced two litters, eight puppies in each (6 females, 2 males in July 2009, 5 females and 3 males in January 2010).

Nance gives me (and FLD Mike) lots of encouragement and advice when we need it.  She also organizes outings for groups of puppy-raisers so our puppies learn to behave in public with other dogs.

Last Wednesday we spoke to students and staff in a Library Fair at Macomb County Community College.  The puppies were a big hit, although the littlest one, Emma, got very tired!

On Friday, a group of raisers met Nance in downtown Rochester at the Bean and Leaf Cafe.  We had coffee and visited, hoping to observe some Leader Dog teams in training.  And we did!  All the puppies stayed calm and relaxed in spite of lots of coffee-drinkers going in and out during our two hour stay.  One customer almost ran over FLD Mike's paw with her stroller, but he didn't even budge.

Why don't YOU consider volunteering to become a puppy raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind?

If you have any questions about what it takes to raise a Future Leader Dog, please feel free to leave a comment, or email me from my profile page.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Tip for Tuesday: PUPPY POTTY TRAINING, step two

As your puppy learns to control his bodily functions, it is inevitable that he (for reading ease, I will use "he" instead of "he/she") will have accidents in the house.   (Catching him "in the act" is the best way for him to understand what is not acceptable.)


Many dog-owners use vinegar, but even though vinegar removes the urine odor from our noses, it won't from your puppy's nose.  He will still be able to smell it, and he will pee where he smells pee.  The best product to use to remove the odor completely is a natural enzyme cleaner, such as Nature's Miracle.


After your puppy is controlling himself in the restricted area, you can begin to expand access to the rest of the house.  This doesn't mean that you can never bring your puppy into the living room, say, if you've been keeping him in the kitchen.  Just supervise him at all times; he might have an accident.  If you are paying close attention and catch him "thinking" about going, you've taken a big step in demonstrating that "in the house" (not just the kitchen) is off-limits.  Gradually introduce other areas of the house.  I guarantee that the first time he goes upstairs (or down in the basement) he will "go," no matter how well he's been doing on the main floor.

A note here about male puppies:  when you take him out to pee, don't let him near a vertical object like a bush or a tree.  Even though a very young puppy won't "lift" his leg initially, you'll want to avoid giving him the opportunity.  Let him get used to peeing without anything around and he will be less likely to lift his leg to "mark" later.  If he does try to mark in the house, correct him with a stern "NO" just as you would when you catch him going potty and take him outside.  Another technique is to put some coins in a can and tape the opening shut.  When the puppy is about to potty, drop the can near him (not AT him) so he is startled.  Do this discreetly--the idea is to make him think it's the "house" that is startling him, not you.  As soon as he is distracted from the act, rush him outside to finish the job.  Remember to praise him when he's done!

Puppies should be brought out to potty 15 to 20 minutes after eating or drinking and EVERY TIME they come out of their crate, wake up from a nap, and after playtime.  It is possible to train your puppy to potty on a schedule that works for you, instead of waiting for him to "tell you" when he has to go.



When your puppy is very young, keep the crate in his restricted area during the day with the door open.  He will most likely start to go in it to take a nap.  Periodically put him in his crate while you are at home, instead of just when you leave.  This will give him confidence that going into his crate doesn't mean "My people are leaving!"


The crate should be your puppy's "safe" place; don't put him in the crate for "punishment" or raise  your voice when you put him in it.  Many trainers recommend throwing treats into the crate, I've found that putting the puppy in the crate matter-of-factly from the very first moment causes the puppy to think that this is life as normal.  Give a command such as "kennel up" every time you put him in his crate.  Before you know it, he will run right in when he hears "kennel up!"  (For safety, remove your puppy's collar whenever he is in his crate.)

Give your puppy some toys to occupy him while he's in his crate.  Hard chew toys are best, like Nylabones or Kongs.  You can put a soft bed in the crate, but if your puppy has a party and rips it apart, he should lose that privilege!


Never let your puppy out of his crate when he is barking or whining.  Wait until he is quiet.  When he learns to "sit" on command, tell him to "SIT" before you open the door.  (Remember, he is learning to sit each time he gets fed.)  If he starts to get up from his sit, shut the door and say "NO."  When he sits, praise him, then open the door again.  He should not get up to exit until you release him with "OK."

Never let your puppy out of the crate as soon as he sees you in the morning, or when you come home.  Let him settle down from several minutes to 10 or 15 minutes.  Ignore him so he learns he must wait for you--this shows him that your are his leader.  If he carries on in the crate, toss the coin-filled can near the crate to distract him.  Or leave the room.  It is important not to give any attention when he is misbehaving in his crate.  In your puppy's eyes, getting yelled at is still getting the attention he craves.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Running in April in Michigan, or...(another FIB!)

I penned this poem earlier this month after a run with my dog Gypsy, but the sentiments are still appropriate after the temperature extremes this past week!  (It's another FIB, check out Gregory K's blog:  GottaBook.  Thanks again, Gregory!)

Running in April in Michigan or, Nature's Disenchanted Intimacy

we ran hot,
skin sizzled to touch.
Today, measured breath is frigid.

Friday, April 16, 2010



He circles 'round the rug edge.
As he settles his butt to the floor I start,
thinking he's about to "park."

But he flops his rear end,
crumpling in a curve to match the arc
edging the hardwood floor.

He doesn't linger long.
He hoists himself, wobbles some degree
along the circumference,

and collapses again,
heaving a sigh as if unable to decide
which place feels best for a nap.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Rosie Road, part 3 MILEY

Intercepted emails from Miley in "doggy camp" to her little persons.

Hi kids!

I just want you to know I am having fun here at aunt patti's doggy camp.  I am learning to go potty outside.  (It helps that the snow is melting.)  Patti's dog Gypsy is showing me what to do.  Last night I slept all night in my crate.  I liked that patti put it in her bedroom in case I got scared.  (But I didn't!) I was ready to play at 6:30 this morning, but first I had to go outside to poop and pee, and after that Gypsy and I ate breakfast.  I have to "sit" before I can eat breakfast, lunch, AND dinner (patti is teaching me how).   Then I got to play.
That's me in the picture having breakfast (after I sat) in my new play yard in patti's kitchen.  It's all for me!

miss you, love and puppy kisses!  Miley

Sorry it's so late, but I had a busy day at work today.  Yep, I went to work with aunt patti and Gypsy.  You can see me safe in my crate in patti's work truck (I'm glad I have my bunny).  We went lots of places.  First I met everyone on patti's team really early in the morning (there were some BIG dogs there!), then we drove a looong way in her truck.  She let me get out alot to pee, but sometimes I got distracted because there were too many new things to see and sniff.  Oh, and I met a nice little doggie named Sam and his little person just about your age, Maddy.  

It rained alot today, but mostly I stayed warm and dry in my crate.  I got to eat lunch right in the truck!  Then we drove a looong way back home and played and played.  I'm getting good at chasing the ball and bringing it back, although sometimes I like to tease patti and run away instead.  Gypsy let me jump into her soft new bed she got from Santa!

I'm doing pretty good learning not to mess in the house, but patti has to pay closer attention to me.  She still hasn't figured out when I try to tell her "I gotta go!"  I had two mistakes today, but lots of other times I did okay.  I LOVE  to go outside, there are so many things to smell and chase, like leaves!  Plus, I follow Gypsy around.

I hope you are having as much fun as me!  I miss you!  Tomorrow we don't have to go to work.  I wonder what we'll do....

puppy kisses, Miley  (aunt patti says "hi!")

Hey Maddy!  I have to go to bed now, but I wanted to let you know how much fun I had today.  Patti is finally learning to know when I tell her I have to go out.  I gave her a good hint--I ran to the back door and she took me out!  I pooped and peed outside ALL DAY!

Patti made me a fun toy to keep me busy thinking.  She took a plastic bottle and cut a hole in it and then put some of my food in there.  I was scared at first, but then I figured it out--when I roll it around pieces fall out and I get to eat them! Is this what you do in school?

Patti teaches me lots of things.  When I fetch she tells me to "drop."  Sometimes I get excited and try to bite her hands or clothes, but she tells me "NO" and I stop.  I try to be a good puppy!

I miss you!  I can't wait to get home, but first I want to be the very bestest puppy I can!

love and puppy kisses, Miley

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

FLD Mike, Living Dangerously

Calm Mr. Mike is a wild-man.  Second day in a row.

Yesterday morning, I saw the whites of his eyes as he leapt from the rug at the front door to the matching round rug in the middle of our living room.  And then he kept on leaping.  Onto his mat in the kitchen.  Over to the shag rug in front of the counter.  He never touched down on the hard wood or tile floor in-between.  Rug to rug to rug.  And back.  He passed Gypsy with a nose butt to her shoulder; she returned a quick snarl, white teeth bared beneath her curled back lip.  Mike:  living dangerously.

But, he can't help himself.  FLD Mike is almost 7 months old.  Like people, dogs suffer through the woes of adolescence.  Yay...testosterone!

In self-defense yesterday, I took Mike out for his morning walk first thing.  Breakfast could wait.  We didn't leave our townhouse complex.  I concentrated on loose-leash heeling--my neighbors, if they happened to glance out, would wonder why I took such a backwards walk.  I worked hard for his attention.  After about 30 minutes walking-but-getting-nowhere, he started to adjust his pace in time with mine, he finally looked at me the moment I said Mike, he held his SIT, head turning with his eyes on me as I circled around behind him.  When we came back inside, he ran over to his "mat," promptly sat, and waited patiently for me to fill his bowl and give him the OK to eat.  As always, I am astonished how effective a modest bit of obedience work is in calming the "wildre-beast."

This morning, my strategy takes a different approach.  Mr. Mike and I play the "mat" game.

Mike, STAY.  I leave him sitting in the hall by the back door.  I move his mat near the front closet.  Mike, MAT.  He runs full bore to the spot in the kitchen where his mat usually is, sniffs the floor (not there), looks over toward his food dish (not there either), turns with a hop to bound into the living room, spots the mat, leaps onto it, turning in one motion to slide into a "down."  Good mat, Mike!  I move the mat several times and repeat, with increasing enthusiasm.

When I put the mat in the back bathroom, Mike can't find it right away--he retraces the other places where the mat had been, then races upstairs, races down, races through the living room to the kitchen to the back hall where he finally sights the mat.  Yippee!!  Yikes, this game isn't tiring him out, he's getting ramped up!

Shift gears.  I put the mat in the living room and send him to it.  He lies down, but his posture says, "I'm ready to GO."  STAY.  This trick proves to be a tad more challenging for Mr. Mike.  After stopping him from getting up a few times, he finally rolls over onto his side as if to say, "Ok, looks like I'm staying here awhile."  I finish my breakfast before releasing him with the command, OK!

Now, as I write this, FLD Mike is sleeping under my desk, a sweet puppy once again.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A TIP for Tuesday: PUPPY POTTY TRAINING, step one

A new puppy comes home.  Do these things first!

  • Buy an appropriately sized crate.  This is your most important tool!  (More about crate training later.)
 If you get a large breed puppy, buy a crate that has an expandable divider.  The crate should just be big enough for your puppy to stand up and turn around.  If the crate is too large, your puppy will learn to potty at one end.  Your puppy has a natural instinct to keep his (or her) sleep area clean.  Never use the crate for punishment; the crate should always be your puppy's special place.  Always crate your puppy at night and whenever you are not home.

  • Buy a buckle collar and an inexpensive leash.
Your puppy will need to learn how to behave on a leash; the best way to teach this is to let your puppy drag a leash around (hence the cheap leash--you won't be mad when he chews it up).  The leash also makes a good "handle" to catch him when he shows signs of needing to potty.

  • Select a small area in your home to first contain your puppy.
Select a room, like your kitchen, to block off at first, or you can buy an adjustable plastic pen (highly recommended!) to section off part of a room if it is big.  Think about where you will spend most of your time, or where it will be easiest to clean up after your puppy, and plan to keep your puppy there.
  • Design a feeding and potty schedule you can live with. 
Puppies have little bladders, and less control.  Expect them to potty 15-20 minutes after drinking or eating.  Puppies will only be able to hold themselves in the crate for one hour plus one hour for each month of age (an eight week old puppy might only be able to hold himself for 1 plus 2 hours).

At eight weeks old, puppies should be fed three times a day.  Monitor food and water intake.  Don't be afraid to limit water after 7:00pm--or you'll be up more times per night to take your puppy out to pee!

It is important to be consistent and persistent!  As my friend Katie says, "A couple weeks of intense effort will pay off with years of pleasant co-habitation with your dog."


Keep your attention on your puppy!
  • If you cannot devote your entire attention to your puppy, he must be contained, crated, or tied to you by a leash.
  • NEVER leave your puppy unattended after eating or drinking--what goes in will come out--it's a perfect opportunity for learning.
  • Your puppy must EARN the right to roam the rest of the house.  He must be accident-free in the smaller initial area before expanding access to the rest of the house.  Just because your puppy won't potty in the kitchen (if that is the initial area), doesn't mean he understands that the living room is not a bathroom.  Expect to backtrack training as access is allowed.
Communication is YOUR responsibility!
  •   YOU must learn to read your dog for signals he has to potty.
  • Your puppy will learn by making mistakes, so you must be able to "catch" him in the "act."  Or better yet, just BEFORE.  A stern NO, sweep the puppy up and get him outside where you want him to potty, stand in one place (he should be on a leash) and give a command.  Leader Dogs teach us puppy-raisers to say "park" to our Future Leader Dogs.  I knew one lady from England who taught her puppy to "spend a penny."
  • Remember to PRAISE your puppy when he pottys outside.  Be careful using treats, your puppy will learn to "fake it" just for the treat!
  • If your puppy doesn't potty within the time you are willing to stand there, put him in his crate when you return inside.  Leave him in the crate for 15 minutes, then take him outside and try again.  DO NOT LET HIM FREE UNTIL HE POTTYS!  If you are consistent with this, he will learn quickly. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Rosie Road, part 2


Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It's been years since my last confession. I've been prejudiced.  I never really liked little, yappy dogs.  Well, until recently.  I've met a few I like.  But, I've been known to call them "kick-me" dogs.

"For your penance, go now and rescue a little dog."

It's true.  I never had a special place in my heart for diminutive dogs.  Most of the ones I knew were irritating spoiled brats.  My idea of a "real" dog was one that weighed at least 40 lbs, a dog you could run with, who would make you feel protected.

My mind changed, though, after working for Invisible Fence.  I was in contact with scores of dogs, big and small, and in-between.  Some of these little dogs were very cool, just like "regular" dogs!  They behaved, they listened, they were easy to train, and fun to play with!  What made them just like "big" dogs?  And others like gremlins?

Many tiny pups suffer from what is known as "little-dog-syndrome."  Check out more on this phenomenon at this website:

In short, it isn't their fault.  Humans put up with behaviors in little dogs that we wouldn't allow in larger dogs.  Let's face it.  A 90 lb rotty who runs up and jumps on you is just plain SCARY!  Yet, a 12 lb "Yorki-poo" jumps up and it's "cute."  Annoying little dogs are just DOGS who do what dogs do--assert themselves in a pack hierarchy--and get away with it.

How cool would it be to have a tiny, obedient dog to bring to work with me?  I thought.  What a great example!

So, I will find a small dog, but I've got to narrow my choices--what breed?  I insisted on a puppy under 12 weeks of age.  Remember, part of wanting a new puppy was to challenge what I learned about training and socializing during this critical phase--from about 8 to 16 weeks.

During the month of January, 2008, I spent hours perusing PetFinderLUCY, a 12 week-old terrier mix (maybe).  TAMARA, a 7 month-old min-pin (too old, but cute).  TODDI, a Tibetan spaniel mix, age unknown (could be too big).  AUBURN, an 8 week-old Boston terrier mix (hmmm).  I also visited the Macomb County Animal Shelter.  Not too many young puppies here.

So many choices; I wanted ALL of them!  I just couldn't decide.  I might have to wait until May for the annual adoption event where I found Gypsy, "Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo."

My nephew gave his six-year-old daughter a female Yorkie puppy (she named "Miley") that same Christmas, a grand-slam-home-run.  Unfortunately, his busy household with three kids (one an infant) and two working parents left little time for house-training.  He called me for advice.  After a long list of instructions, he gasped in exasperation.  "That isn't going to happen!"  Let me take Miley home for 2 weeks and I'll do it.

At last, a chance to practice my training skills with a little dog!

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Rosie Road, part 1

Today we start a trip back in time with the story of Rosie, or "how puppy-lust brought me to raising Leader Dog puppies."

It's Christmas morning, 2007.  Andy comes down from upstairs and drops two soft, round doggie beds onto our living room rug.  "Merry Christmas," he kisses me.  Thanks, now Gypsy can have a soft spot under my desk and another next to our bed.  She already had a nice bed on the main floor of our townhouse.  "You misunderstand.  They're not for Gypsy."

He smiled.

Andy caught me more than once perusing PetFinder or the pet category on craigslist.  He knew I struggled with "puppy-lust" since working for Invisible Fence (IF).  We figured it's possible I trained up to 1000 dogs a year on the fence; now I was doing one-on-one, in-home obedience for IF as well.

It had been seven years since I raised Gypsy, rescued at seven weeks old.  I knew more about dog training and was eager to apply what I'd learned.

Aside from my "puppy-lust," I rationalized the need for a puppy as beneficial for Gypsy.  She was obedient and well behaved, but a bit shy and jittery around other dogs.  Taking her with me to work gave her confidence.  She had a blast chasing balls and otherwise tempting ready-to-be-off-leash dogs new to Invisible Fence.  Her good behavior garnered me plenty of obedience work with my IF customers; I swear she was worth 50% of my sales!

Confirmation of my idea that getting a puppy could help Gypsy surfaced during a week of obedience training for IF trainers.  My co-worker and trainer-friend, Katie (a graduate of National K9 School), developed IF's "train-the-trainer" program.  I was her "left-hand" (I'm left-handed, sorry for the pun!) assistant. 

Trainers brought their personal dogs to class and we had several other dogs available for extensive hands-on practice.  I was amazed to witness this group of "balanced" dogs interact with no issues, both when focused during class-time and when romping in play at break-time.  (The picture at right is of some of these dogs "holding sit" with outside distractions!)  Even Gypsy felt comfortable, taking particular interest in cavorting with a young female Westie.

You mean...I can get a new puppy?  Andy aswered, "Yep!"

The search was on.  In earnest.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Pinch me out of my dream."

Rosie thinks she's gotten out of Leader Dog responsibilities, but the mission she has now might be just as vital--being present while three precious girls grow up, listening to whispered secrets with abandon, slopping well-timed kisses as she offers a supple coat to bury tears.

I see in her the proud and confident dog that I left at Leader Dogs so many months ago and not the fur-flying, leash-pulling lab we picked up after her career-change.  She's settled into her new home nicely.

I watch as Rosie nudges each niece off-and-on during the evening I am with them, as she lifts her head when she hears one of them move about in another room and then gets up to check, as she turns into a wiggly-waggly bundle of joy when Anne gets home from school.

Rosie is definitely their dog now.


"It's hard to believe that Rosie, was once a tiny and playful, puppy. Now, she is a beautiful, obedient dog. -sofia"
(Post by Sofia on FaceBook after my evening with them.)

"Now I have nothing else to wish for!" 
(When she realized that Rosie was to be HER dog.)

"Mom.  Pinch me out of my dream." 
(As we left on the first "family walk" with Rosie, FLD Mike, and Gypsy.)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Finger Sweep

Poem day.   Here's a "FIB" inspired by my many walks with young puppies.  Check out Gregory K's blog, "GottaBook" for the detailed definition of a FIB:  a 20 syllable poem based on the mathematical "Fibonacci sequence."  You'll appreciate my verse if you've ever found yourself wishing you had named your puppy "Kirby" (as in the "vacuum").

Finger Sweep

leaf, stone, twig,
plastic thingy, rock.
Litter-picker-upper puppy

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


FLD Mike slept in until almost 7:00 am today.  Usually he stirs in his crate between 5:30 and 6:00.  We don't mind much getting up that early; Andy and I both like to rise with the birdies, but sometimes it is nice to linger awhile in bed.

How FLD Mike gets tired is the result of a number of things:

MORNING WALK (this day we did just over 3 miles)

Our daily walk is necessary exercise--for Mike and me!  However, our excursions are also training opportunities.  Before his Leader Dog jacket gets buckled on, Mike "parks" in his spot near the dumpster.  Off we go.  While he is HEELING he is "at work."  He learns to pay attention to me.  I vary our pace from a crawl to a 15-minute-per-mile march.  I stop abruptly.  I turn RIGHT or LEFT, or do an "about-face."  I make Mike SIT and sometimes "hold" his SIT as I stop to pick up a lucky penny, or to keep his focus when an excited little Bichon escapes her owner and dashes across the street to greet us.  We travel on sidewalks along busy roads so heavy work trucks banging through potholes do not startle him.


If we don't have time for a walk, or the weather is nasty, exercising Mike's mind for 10-15 minutes  at a time tires him out sometimes just as well as a long walk.  We work on obedience drills, depending on what he knows or needs to practice.  I use part of his daily allotment of food to use as treats; his effort becomes a game!

Mike knows "mat" well now, so I move his mat around the house.  Mike, MAT.  He looks over to the spot where his mat usually is, cocks his head and wanders to the last place it was (this laid-back puppy is a thinker).  When he spots the mat, he gives a little leap as if to say "Ah, ha!  There it is!"  He bounds over, turns around on it to face me, and lays down in anticipation.  (treat)  We work on staying on the mat.  I leave the room and call his name.  MIKEHe finds me and SITS.  (treat)  He thinks he's doing tricks when I he does "puppy-pushups."  Mike, SIT.  (treat)  Mike, DOWN.  (treat)  Mike SIT.  (treat)   Mike DOWN.  (treat)  YEA!!!

PLAYTIME (this day with Rosie)

My trainer-friend, Katie, says, "Running around the yard is like taking your kids to Chucky-Cheese--instead of the excitement having a calming affect, their tiredness just makes them cranky and wound up."  Has anyone been around a worn-out, crabby two-year-old?

I took Mike to my sister's yesterday afternoon to watch the girls while she went off to her graduate studies at Oakland U.  Mike and Rosie chased each other around the backyard for hours.  When we came in for dinner, they were so wound up and panting they wouldn't settle down.  "We put Rosie on her mat when we eat," Sofia told me.  Rosie, MAT.  She went right to it.  Mike, on the other hand, couldn't stop himself from engaging her.  Mike, KENNEL UP.  He ran into Rosie's crate.  That solved things.  Once Mike was forced to "stop," he fell right to sleep.  Not that this provided us a peaceful dinner--he SNORES!