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Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day, FLD Mike

To all of those who have sacrificed their lives to protect us....

FLD Mike salutes you!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Poetry: A May FIB


to do
much else but
hang out in the cool
-Mike's last thoughts before his head drops

(For more on FIBs, check out this website)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Rosie Road, part 9 Puppy Number 7758

Saturday, August 30, 2008

I feel a bit anxious as we drive out to the Leader Dogs for the Blind to pick up our Future Leader Dog (FLD) puppy.  Will I be able to do this?  How will I manage her while I'm working?  What will Gypsy do?

Andy says, "There's just one thing."  Oh, oh.  "Because you chose to do this, I get to name her.

Fair enough.  Seven years prior I had struggled to name Gypsy.  She went three days without a name, mostly I was calling her "YOU," as in "Hey, you!"  On the fourth morning, a beleaguered Andy announced, "Her name is Gypsy."

So, what name did you pick out for our Future Leader Dog?  I asked.

"Well, I think we should reserve final judgment until we meet her, but I'm thinking: ROSIE."

We pull into the Leader Dogs for the Blind parking lot almost 30 minutes early; we watch a looped video more than once while waiting in the kennel lobby.  This isn't calming my nerves.  Finally, a volunteer leads us back to a conference room.  Another woman and her young daughter and son accompany us--they are here to pick up their second Leader Dog puppy.  "We brought our first one back two weeks ago.  Luckily we are getting a four or five-month-old puppy this time.  My work schedule makes it impossible to deal with the constant demands of an eight-week-old!"

The volunteer hands me and the woman a canvas "ditty" bag (with "Puppy-Raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind" stamped on the side) filled with paperwork, a "training manual," puppy-counselor contact information, two sizes of martingale collars, a six-foot leather leash, a ziplock-bag of Purina Puppy Chow, a two-cup plastic scoop, Heartgard tablets, a nylabone, a small Kong toy, and a numbered Leader Dog tag which must be on the puppy at all times.  We are given instructions about veterinarian care, and feeding schedules.  We read over and sign a formal contract stating that this puppy is entrusted to our care until she is about one-year old.  There is a special box* to check--if the puppy is "career-changed" at any time, do we want her back?  I hold my breath and "X" it.  (*As of 2010 this box is not on the contract; Leader Dogs retains the right to place a career-changed dog into an alternative program before offering it back to the raiser.)

After all the "legal-eeze," the volunteer says to me, "I'm going to bring yours out first.  The little ones are just so darn cute!"

She is gone what seems to me to be an extra-long time.  At last she returns, cradling a snuggly-pudgy black-lab puppy.  "I had to wake her up!" She exclaims.  

As she hands Future Leader Dog puppy number 7758 to me, the patiently-awaiting little boy runs over and begs, "Can I hold her?"  Reluctantly I hand her over.  His face looks like it is about to break he is grinning so hard, and the puppy's tail appears in danger of spinning off of her body.


There isn't much point in discussing her name any longer.  FLD "Rosie" gets handed back and forth--there is plenty of puppy-breath and ear-nibbles for all--and in the end she comes to me.

A Walk through the Neighborhood

Seven am.  Dew droplets bead up on FLD Mike's black-lab nose as he scours the ground for scent during  his morning constitutional.  Did a rabbit hop here?  It's not yet the end of May, yet summer seems thrust upon us.  The morning air is cool against my night face, damp from too many covers on the bed.

One hour later, flags hang limp against warming aluminum poles.  We are out early for our walk; only one block into it I decide to shorten our two-mile route to one.  My gray cotton t-shirt is already clamming against my back.  

It's too hot for the rabbits.  We see two squirrels circle haphazardly around an old tree.  

Dogs in pairs behind their fences bay at us as we pass.  FLD Mike croons his head left to scrutinize, but I keep him on task.  


Now a pair across the street announce our passing.

FLD Mike glances down in front of me and I follow his gaze...there's a bug, scurrying across leaving a long shadow because the sun is still not high.  We cross the parking lot to our townhouse and I hear the buzz of air conditioners like worker drones beating their wings in the hive to keep the queen cool.

We're going inside.  It's going to be hot today.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Last Tuesday's TIP proved to be too big a topic for one post.  Herein lies "part 2" of FIRM, FAIR and CONSISTENT DISCIPLINE.


One of the first things I think about when approaching a dog with "firmness" is what Cesar Millan describes as "calm-assertive energy."  (Check his website for more information.)  Here are just a few practical pointers:

Dogs are pack animals that instinctually seek a strong leader.  When we humans treat our pet dogs like little people instead of dogs, they sense weakness and strive to take over the leadership position themselves.  For an interesting explanation of this, check out the article, "The Human Dog" on the "Dog Breed Info" website.

  • A "command" should be a COMMAND, not a request.
Use a firm voice with a command.  This doesn't imply a threatening or loud voice.  The voice I mean sounds a lot like my mother when she told me to clean up my room when I was a kid:  "I'm not asking you, I'm telling you!"  She did not coo:  "Please clean up your room, okay?"

  • NEVER give a command that you cannot enforce immediately (and only give the command ONCE)!
Ignoring a command is your dog testing your leadership.  Getting away with ignoring a command is your dog learning that you are NOT a leader!  Repeating a command teaches your dog that he or she doesn't have to do what you want until maybe the third (or fourth or fifth) repetition of the command.


Being fair relates to awareness of dog behavior and the learning process.  When we "anthropomorphize" our dogs (treat them like human beings), we cause behavior problems through misunderstanding.  When we are not patient with a dog that is learning, we are not creating an opportunity for him or her to succeed; rather, we set him or her up to fail, and set ourselves up to be frustrated!

Dogs need daily exercise and mental stimulation.  (And leadership!)  Remember my adage:  "A tired puppy is a good puppy."  Running around the fenced-in backyard is not exercise; walk your dog--this is an excellent time to practice heeling on a loose leash.  Take 5 or 10 minutes during your normal daily activities to "work" on name recognition exercises to keep your dog's focus on YOU.

 Can you "read" Gypsy's and FLD Mike's body language?  This picture was taken about two weeks after we brought Mike home.  Gypsy is making sure he understands who is "alpha dog" after all the humans in the house.
 Look at the difference in their posture in this picture taken one month later.  FLD Mike has figured out who is boss!  They are both alert and focusing on the photographer (me).

There are many excellent resources on dog behavior both in print and on-line.  Learn to "read" your dog so you can begin to recognize canine behavioral characteristics and respond appropriately.  For example, signs of stress are frequent licking of the lips, panting, or excessive dandruff.  If your dog starts to do any of these during a training session, he or she is most likely getting overwhelmed and confused.  At this point it is best to return to something your dog knows  well, and end the session on a positive.  He or she will do better next time.  (Remember to give at least a one hour break between sessions.)

Show, encourage, redirect.  For example, physically show your dog what "sit" means when first teaching your dog to SIT.  As your dog starts to get the idea, give the SIT command and mentally count :  "One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand."  Watch your dog--if he or she makes a slight movement as if considering what to do, encourage with "That's it!"  Try not to touch the dog; let your voice help him or her into the proper position.  Eventually, you must judge when to "push" your dog by adding a "NO" when he or she remains standing; repeat the SIT command as you guide him or her again into the sit position.  Repeating the command in this manner during the learning process (the only time it is appropriate to repeat a command) and guiding the dog into a sit, redirects the dog from what you DON'T want him or her to do (stand), into what you DO want him or her to do (sit).

Praise.  Reserve praise until the dog actually does what you want him or her to do on his own.  Modulate your praise with your voice and touch:
  • Amount of praise--a nervous or shy dog might need more praise than a "happy-go-lucky" dog.  Too much praise for an excitable dog might cause the dog to break the position, in effect forfeiting the learning opportunity and you will need to backtrack.
  • Type of praise--physical praise is usually the highest form.  Again, this type of praise might be too much for an excitable dog, but necessary to build confidence in a timid dog.


In behavioral psychology, operant conditioning refers to a behavioral method of learning; one learns to repeat (or not repeat) a response because of subsequent reinforcement, either positive or negative.  This method can be used to increase or decrease a behavior, but the reinforcement must occur every time (consistent).  If the reinforcement is intermittent (not consistent) when the desired effect is to decrease the behavior, the behavior is instead increased!  "Variable reinforcement" builds robust behaviors. (If you are confused by all this, you are not alone!)

This concept of consistency became clear to me during a puppy-class at Leader Dogs for the Blind when our instructor explained "variable reinforcement" using a slot-machine metaphor.  As my husband Andy interpreted, "If you've EVER won a quarter on a slot-machine, even once, you will ALWAYS think you can win again!"  There is no consistency in the rate of "hitting the jackpot;"" gambling casinos understand this addictive power of "variable reinforcement" and count on their customers trying "just one more time."  So too do our dogs.  If they are allowed, even just once, to pull on the leash to reach what they want, they keep testing, because they never forget that one time they achieved what they strained after.  "This time I might just hit the jackpot," they think--and so they pull everytime they are on the leash!  See how unintentionally we reinforce our dogs' unwanted behavior?

As Nance, my puppy-counselor, once said to her puppy-raisers, "If you don't want your puppy to do something, NEVER let your puppy do it, not even ONCE!"  A behavior that is "cute" in an 8 pound puppy is not so "cute" in an 80 pound dog!

Monday, May 24, 2010

What To Do On a Hot Day

Need: To exercise FLD Mike, who is a bit lethargic on a suddenly-hot May Saturday.

Method: Lab-time water-wrestling at cc'd (career-changed) Rosie's new home.

Outcome: One cooled-down, tired FLD Mike!


Friday, May 21, 2010

A Walk in the Park

I wondered if something was wrong with FLD Mike.  It was mid-afternoon.  We had not taken our daily walk.  By now he should have been bugging me to do SOMETHING, yet there he was, lying on the cool kitchen-floor tile.  Content.  I planned to take him to a Leader Dogs for the Blind puppy-group outing at Dodge Park after dinner and in defense of his excitement to be around the other puppies I wanted to make sure he was tired.  (By now you must remember my adage:  "A tired puppy is a good puppy.")

Hey, Mike, want to go to Sam's with me?  He lifts his head to gaze at me, then plops it back down on the tile.  Come on, let's go!  I urge.  He pulls himself up and lumbers over.

At the truck, FLD Mike takes his time to jump into his place on the passenger side floorboard.  It's curious to watch him think about it.  Today he doesn't take any longer than usual to finally make up his mind.  He hops in.

There are only a few things on my list, so our shopping trip shouldn't take long.  FLD Mike heels easily beside me until we get into the store.  He plants his front paws, locks his legs, ducks his head, and glances up at me.  I can see the white crescents at the bottom of his eyes.  This is his typical request to "park," but we took care of that already.

Mike, heel!  I encourage, bending slightly to tap my left leg.  He heels, but at every aisle-turn (Mike, left.  Mike right.), he resists in the same manner.  I elicit my "baby-talk" voice for more encouragement and we make our rounds.  Whenever I pause to select an item, FLD Mike takes the opportunity to lie down.  I take the opportunity to work on our STAY command while filling my cart, as it is unlikely he'll be motivated to move on his own!

After dinner, I wonder if I should even take Mike to our Future Leader Dog (FLD) puppy outing.  I decide it's okay to do so when Mike has no problem scarfing up his food.  He's fine; maybe he's just worn-out from our recent trip to North Carolina.  At least he'll be easy to handle.

FLD Mike snoozes on our drive over to Dodge Park, but when he sees the other FLDs gathering at the shelter, he turns into "crazy dog."  Well, crazy for laid-back Mike, anyway!  We backwards walk a bit on our way over to meet the group.  I'm not worried any more that something is wrong with him.

Once assembled, our puppy-counselor Kathie tells us, "Today we are all going to switch dogs!"  As we trade leashes, I can almost read our puppies' minds.  "Cool, I wonder what I can get away with walking with this new person!"

We puppy-raisers rise to the challenge!  We heel our FLDs single-file down a paved path along the banks of the Clinton River, working to keep our puppies' focus in the midst of difficult distractions:  bicyclists, joggers, roller-bladers, dog-walkers, kids, and ducks!

Puppies and raisers alike relax at the end of our walk, and enjoy some drinks of cool water.  Our FLD puppy outing proves to be a delightful experience.  I'm glad we came, and I'm sure that FLD Mike would agree!

If you are interested in becoming a puppy-raiser, please don't hesitate to contact the Leader Dogs for the Blind, either through their website here, or by calling 888-777-5332 for more information.  (Tell them you read about it on this blog!) Leader Dogs is in need for more puppy-raisers--you'll meet a lot of great people, learn more about dogs, have fun, and help someone to boot. Don't delay, call now--you'll never regret it!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Photos: "Leap of Faith"

Jim's comment to yesterday's post referred to a picture I had taken of Rosie in mid-air, just as she dove off a dock into the Foote Dam Pond along the Au Sable River. Here is a series of three photographs taken as she considers, and then takes her first leap!


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Rosie Road, part 8 The Call

Caspian was back with his raisers.  I stopped calling the Leader Dogs for the Blind to see if they had a puppy for me.  I got on with my life, happy to delay any decision about becoming a puppy-raiser.

On a Friday in August, 2008, I dragged myself home after a particularly long day of field work for Invisible Fence.  Andy greeted me with a hug, "Leaders Dogs called and left a message.  They have a puppy ready for you."

Oh boy.  Now I was faced with a decision and I had the weekend to stew about it.

Me, to myself:  I don't want to commit to this.
Myself, to me:  You idiot!  How can you agree to be a puppy-raiser and then back out at the last minute?!

Andy did not want to be part of my decision, but when I pressed him he admitted, "I guess I really don't want a second dog.  But I'll support whatever you decide to do."

Yikes.  Another nice mess.

On Sunday I attended a United Church of Christ service where my younger brother, Jim, was "guest preaching."  In a mid-life career-change, he was studying at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary to get his Master's Degree in Divinity.  Something in Jim's sermon caused me to consider that there really was no other choice for me--I must become a puppy-raiser.  I don't remember his exact words; I'm sure it had to do with our responsibilities to use our skills in the service of others.  This quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe came to mind:  "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."

On Monday, first thing, I called the Leader Dogs for the BlindYou have a puppy for me?  "Yes, a female black lab."  Great!  When can I pick her up?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


During my childhood I yearned for a dog.  The first puppy I finally owned (as a self-supporting adult) was a black lab/maybe-Irish-Setter mix.  Aero was seven weeks old, or so my co-worker said when he dropped her off at my house on his way to work; I think she was younger.  His female dog had unplanned puppies (a good example of why it is important to spay and neuter our pets), and his wife demanded that he "get those puppies out of the house!"

Although I had no experience raising a puppy, I knew enough to take Aero to Dr. Hamilton (our local vet) for a puppy-checkup right away.  Dr. Hamilton examined Aero, administered her first puppy shots, and gave me some essential advice:  "Be firm, fair, and consistent with your discipline."

The "firm" part of discipline I recognized.  Eight years in a Catholic grade school gave me more than enough exposure to strictness--my mother often told me I should have been a Drill Sergeant!  Fairness was another matter.  Was it "fair" when, in 1963, Father Hutting reneged in letting me become an alter-boy even after I cut off my braids as he suggested?  Were the nuns "fair" when our entire class got punished for the misbehavior of one or two kids?  I wasn't sure how well I would accomplish "fair."  And then consistency...doesn't that just mean doing the same thing the same way all the time?

In spite of not fully understanding the practical application of Dr. Hamilton's advice, I somehow muddled successfully through puppy-hood with Aero.  I think it was simply luck, although I did spend a lot of time with her.  Seven years later, Aero did a great job training my second puppy for me.  Stoker, a yellow lab/beagle mix, came from another unplanned litter (from a different co-worker)!  After Areo and Stoker were gone, I rescued my third puppy, Gypsy (who is some kind of lab/whippet/terrier mix) at the "Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo" adoption event.

Gypsy's intelligence and propensity to challenge me might have caused me to "over do" the firmness part.  I'm sure that much of her resultant nervousness stems from my early lack of "fairness," a direct result of misreading and misunderstanding her behavior.  Because of her intelligence, she needed something "to do" to occupy her mind; when she was bored she got into trouble stealing things; when she wouldn't stop stealing, it wasn't so much in defiance as much as frustration.  She wasn't getting enough exercise, and she definitely wasn't getting enough mental stimulation.  And whose responsibility was that?

I made the common mistake of so many other dog-owners--I reacted to my young dog as if she were a rebellious teenager and not the canine that she was.  First I neglected to meet her needs; then I misunderstood her behavior.  Worse yet, I failed to consider that my actions (or lack of actions) were sure to be misinterpreted by the dog!

Subsequently, I have gained deeper insight into canine behavior and not merely as a consequence of my personal experience.  I read about dog behavior extensively (look for a suggested book list in the near future), and was exposed to thousands of dogs on the job with Invisible Fence.  I was formally taught Obedience Training through the same job, and worked with clients one-on-one with their dogs in their homes.  Eventually I assisted in the development and presentation of the company's "train-the-trainer" obedience course.  Part of the reason I became a puppy raiser for the Leader Dogs for the Blind was to put into practice much of what I had learned.  Now, I'm still learning...from Leader Dogs!

This dog-knowledge has not only enabled me to help Gypsy gain confidence, I have gained confidence in my dog-handling skills as well.  I'm finally getting a better grip on just what Dr. Hamilton meant when he advised me of his criteria for discipline:  FIRMNESS, FAIRNESS, and CONSISTENCY.

Check back next week for more on FIRM, FAIR, and CONSISTENT DISCIPLINE.

That's me, wishing for a puppy (again) on my birthday.
Notice I still have my braids.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Photos: FLD Mike on vacation

We are less than 200 miles from home, relaxing in our hotel room after a long drive from North Carolina visiting Andy's son, Josh; we'll get home midday tomorrow.  FLD Mike did very well during this long trip.  Two days in the car to get there, two days to get back, and lots of fun and experience inbetween.

Here are some pictures of FLD Mike's adventure.  He's a happy pup!

This is Josh showing Andy and FLD Mike one of the big machines he operates and repairs in his job at the North Carolina National Guard maintenance facility in Butner.

I'm not sure FLD Mike is impressed.

When FLD Mike checked out a HUMV, Andy said, "Is that what it means to be a service dog?"

FLD Mike looked at us as if to say, "Does this mean I have to join the National Guard?"

FLD Mike attended Raleigh, NC's Artsplosure on Sunday.  As usual, he drew alot of attention!  FLD Mike enjoyed the ice cube one artist shared with him from his cooler.  Strolling through the crowds (and many dogs) for over three hours sure tired him out.

Here he is, nodding out in the van afterwards!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Poetry: "evidence"

We're away visiting Andy's son in the HOT south until next Tuesday, so my posts may is a poem inspired by the walk I had with Mike as described in yesterday's post.


sometimes the aftermath

is like the grounded helicopter

blades that clog the gutter,

a spongy mass of organic material
compressed into geometric patterns
where water once engulfed them

          it takes a shovel

          to clear them away

othertimes, the result is subtle,

like grass clippings that etch the edges

of yesterday's puddles,

Nagasaki-silhouettes bio-chalked in green

yet barely seen

          a stiff wind is enough

          to blow them away

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Letter to FLD Mike's Future Handler

FLD Mike has not even returned to the Leader Dog School for his formal training, much less graduated and placed with a person.  This letter is in hope that he will become a Leader Dog one day.  If so, I would like his person to know about our walk this day.

To FLD Mike's future handler:

I don't know who you are, yet, but I'm sure that the trainers at the Leader Dogs for the Blind have selected Mike to be your new partner because they are certain that you and Mike will make a perfect team.

I thought about you yesterday while FLD Mike and I took what started out to be a three mile walk, but ended up at least a half mile longer.  On Tuesday, over one inch of rain fell.  I wasn't willing to take our daily walk in the storm, so instead, Andy and I took FLD Mike to Bass Pro Shop at Great Lakes Crossing after dinner (this is a fishing and camping supply store).  Heeling Mike around Bass Pro Shop proved to be excellent training.  The ducks in the little stream flowing through the store were a tremendous distraction for him; it took more than several minutes to get his attention back on me so we could walk by!

At any rate, the next morning FLD Mike was full of spit and vinegar.  Since the rain had stopped, I took him on a long walk.  Why did the three miles stretch into more than three and a half, you wonder?  Mike had so much pent up energy I did as much backwards walking the first mile as I did "heeling" him!  Per Leader Dogs instructions, whenever I feel tension on the leash, I walk backwards.  If FLD Mike wants to get anywhere, he learns to heel nicely at my side instead of pulling.  Eventually he figured out that I was serious and we had a nice walk.

As we walked, I noticed many sticks and small branches littering the sidewalk.  I know that Leader Dog trainers teach the dogs to guide their handlers around obstacles, but I wondered if that holds true for storm debris.  How treacherous a walk can be without clear vision!  I became aware of other things; often the cracks in the sidewalk were uneven.  Will Mike know to alert you about something like this?  Is there a safe method of stepping that prevents you from tripping over irregularities?  It is amazing what these Leader Dogs can do!

When FLD Mike and I paused at a corner, a mass of maple seeds jammed against the curb caught my eye.  So much rain had fallen that a rushing stream forced all the "helicopters" into a dam over the sewer grate.  When the water drained, the packed seeds created a stunning pattern.  My being able to see this got me thinking of you again.  I closed my eyes to feel the cool east wind against my slightly sweaty face.

Mike, heel.  We continued.

Everywhere ahead was evidence that rainwater had collected and run off; rings of maple "helicopter" seeds marked the sidewalk shores of dried-up puddles much like deposits of seaweed from waves on a sandy beach.  Some edges were easily discerned; others, more subtle, bore a closer look.

I wish you could have seen it.

May you enjoy countless walks of your own with my FLD Mike.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Rosie Road, part 7 DOUBT

Doubt.  I was full of it.  What was I thinking when I signed up to be a volunteer puppy-raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind

Caspian, the one-year-old Future Leader Dog that I cared for one week in June of 2008, was well-behaved and no trouble, really.  He stayed in the kitchen.  He backed away from my nervous-nilly Gypsy.  He ran into his crate at night with no complaints.  But he was huge.  I know.  I've said it before, but he was easily double Gypsy's petite size, and that was alot of dog in our small townhouse.

Caspian was so big he didn't quite fit in my Chevy S10 pickup when I took him with me on my three-day-a-week-Invisible-Fence-field job.  Leader Dogs are trained to ride on the passenger side floor, but Caspian gazed at me quizzically when I told him, GET IN"You're kidding, right?" I read in his eyes.  "You expect ME to fit THERE?"  Somehow he wedged himself in, draping his upper body over the seat.  By the end of the workday he was exhausted; he reminded me of a Salvador Dali painting as he slid down the seat in a heap.

Caspian sat patiently before eating, but drooled puddles on our tile floor.  He shed copious amounts of black-lab fur.  Too bad I didn't know about the program that recycles hair to make oil spill collectors--Caspian could have single-handedly solved the recent disaster in the Gulf!
Apologies to Oliver Hardy, but I was feeling like this Leader-Dog-thing of mine was just another fine mess I'd gotten myself into.   How could we manage a large, shedding dog in our small space?  Andy was accommodating, but was it fair of me to subject him to this?
When Caspian's raisers came to pick him up, they graciously presented me with a Kong-toy and a Nyla-bone:  "For your new Leader Dog puppy!"  I thanked them, but inside I wasn't sure what I would do when the Leader Dogs for the Blind finally called to say, "We have a puppy for you!"

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A TIP for Tuesday: SETTLE

I park my truck and bring FLD Mike out from his place on the floor of the passenger seat.  MIKE, SIT. (*See note at bottom.)  Mike sits patiently while I fill the parking meter with change.  I walk Mike over to the berm. MIKE, PARK.  After a few moments sniffing around at the end of his leash (I never let him wander while he's doing his "duty"), he "parks."  MIKE, WAIT.  He stands still while I buckle his "Puppy-Being-Raised-for-Leader-Dogs-for-the-Blind" working jacket.  MIKE, HEEL.  We set off at a leisurely stroll to the restaurant, a bit early for my luncheon date at John Barleycorn's.

At the door, which opens from the right, I tap the handle and say, MIKE, AROUND.  Obediently, FLD Mike ducks behind me to enter the door on my right side.  This is a command that the Leader Dogs for the Blind asks puppy raisers to teach our Future Leader Dogs to prevent their paws from catching in the door.  I pass his leash to my right hand and heel him through the entryway.  Once inside, I command MIKE, HEEL and FLD Mike ducks back around to my right side while I transfer the leash back to my left hand.

Most of my group is already seated, so FLD Mike and I take our place.  MIKE, DOWN.  Mike settles calmly at my side, but he spots a crumb under the table.  He sneaks his way toward it like a crawling Marine under fire.  It is my job to pay attention to him; I quickly say MIKE.  He stops to look up at me.  NO, and I gently guide him back to position.  MIKE, SETTLE.  FLD Mike relaxes, practically undetectable for the rest of the two hours or so that we are there.

My friends are amazed.  "How do you get him to stay there like that?"  I smile to myself.
  • Well, Mike's been coming to places like this since he was seven weeks old.
  • Leader Dogs breeds puppies for this temperament. 
  • I walked Mike two miles this morning.  A tired puppy is a good puppy.
  • There are many exercises we do with our puppies to train them to behave like a Future Leader Dog.
As I discussed in last week's TIP, there is no short answer, but one of the best techniques I've learned from the Leader Dogs for the Blind is an exercise we call "settle."  It is a valuable tool to use with ANY puppy!


"Settle" helps to build trust, leadership, and self-control.  Depending on the age and size of the puppy, there are different methods with which to employ this technique.  "Settling" should be practiced frequently, in various locations, and with increasing distractions.

PUPPIES UNDER 10-12 POUNDS  "Elevation"
This technique can be harmful to a larger puppy.

When FLD Mike was less than 10 pounds, I grasped him around his chest with my hands just below his front legs and, much like I would pick up a baby, lifted him.  As he faced me his rear legs dangled just off the floor.  FLD Mike would squirm, but I held him until he "settled" down and relaxed.  I did this several times during the day, in numerous places and situations.  It wasn't long before I could add  MIKE, SETTLE when I picked him up and he would immediately relax.

PUPPIES OVER 10-12 POUNDS  "Cradling"
Alternatively, I "cradled" young FLD Mike in my arms like a baby, restraining him from wiggling until he "settled."  As he grew, I switched position--while sitting on the floor I held his upper body against me with the rest of him between my legs.  This has become one of his favorite things to do at the end of our day; now that he's almost full-grown he curls up between my legs (or next to me), and rests his head on my lap.

FOR ALL AGES  "Quiet lying down"

As a pre-cursor to the "down" command, I would situate FLD Mike on his side with his legs stretched out away from me, petting him with long, slow strokes.  When he "settled" (usually this is accompanied with a big "sigh"), I would praise him, GOOD SETTLE, MIKE!  This was an excellent opportunity for me to "handle" Mike--touching him all over, fondling his ears, face, and paws.

After using all these settling exercises, FLD Mike is very well-behaved, just as you see here at Natalie's soccer game last night!

(*Puppy-raisers are taught to say our puppy's name before each command because this is what Leader Dogs for the Blind instructs the vision-impaired handlers to do.  The puppies learn name-recognition to help them focus.  My  prior experience in training dogs has been NOT to use the name before the command--this teaches the dog to respond to the command without having to add the name.  This also helps maintain consistency--you won't have to remember to say the name first, just the command.  The use of the dog's name is reserved for off-leash situations when you absolutely MUST get the dog's attention, like if the dog is running into the street and a car is coming.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Spring Survival

Last week I took the down blanket off the bed and tucked it into the closet for storage.  Andy and I went for a bike ride wearing shorts.  But is May in Michigan!

Six-thirty on Saturday morning Andy says, "Mike is wacky."  Not a surprise since the only exercise he got the day before was our after-dinner shopping-date at Home Depot and Barnes and Nobles.  Too early for Mike to be instigating a skirmish with a vociferous Gypsy, I grab their leashes.  I'll be back!  Tough luck that they haven't even had breakfast yet. 

As the rising sun squints my eyes I take a quick look over my shoulder and spy an ominous wall of nimbostratus.  This rain-bearing-cloud, railroaded by a ferocious west-wind, threatens to thrust night back into the morning.

I pick up the pace.  Maybe we can make our two-mile loop.  FLD Mike and Gypsy simultaneously glance up at me as if to say, "Let's get going then!"

As we turn north at Little Mack I get a better view of the impending weather.  Well, maybe not.  I turn east at the next corner to shorten our route.  The wind punches me full-force.  I wish I had retrieved my winter coat from the front closet--it's COLD!  We hustle on.  Suddenly the sun blinks out as if Zeus himself had pulled its plug.  I look up.  The dark wall is looming just over the rooftops; a few sharp drops of rain prick my face; the lofty, spring-leaved trees that line the streets of this old neighborhood groan ominously:  "Go back, go back!"

Ok! I gulp, time to turn around.  HEEL I command as we do an about-face.  I know that running with an under-one-year-old puppy is never recommended (growth plates aren't fully formed until then), but I make a decision to get home ASAP and launch into a jog.  Well, I suppose my "jog" is more of a "slog"--FLD Mike and Gypsy break into a fierce trot.

We burst into the back hallway, soaked through.  Ah, breakfast laced with the lovely aroma of wet puppies!

Afterwards, FLD Mike transforms into: ta da....REGISTER DOG!  (While we were out, Andy kicked the heat on to chase the frost-warning chill out of the house.)