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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: BACK TO SCHOOL

The end of August.  Hot, muggy days and listless nights.  There is more than one reason this month is referred to as the "dog days" of summer.

Less than two weeks now until FLD Mike returns to Leader Dogs for the Blind to continue with his formal training.  I am glad that we've taken puppy classes at Leader Dogs; Mike is familiar with the facility and is always happy to go there.

Our van bumper sticker.

5 tips to help your child get ready to go back to school after a fun summer of late bed times and sleeping in.
  1. Start now to gradually change to an earlier bed time.
  2. Begin to wake your child up earlier and earlier every day.
  3. Try on last year's clothes and shop for replacements for those that don't fit.  Let your child help choose.
  4. Talk to your child about his or her concerns.
  5. Plan healthy lunches.

5 things I'm doing to ease FLD Mike's transition back to the Leader Dogs for the Blind school.
  1. Weaned off his evening meal so he eats his daily quota in one meal in the morning.
  2. Morning feeding is at 7:30 a.m.  This has been his usual schedule.
  3. Mike spends a few hours every day in his crate, whether I am home or away.  This will help him adjust to the kennel environment.
  4. Of course, Mike has always stayed in his crate at night.  He enters it willingly and is content to be there.
  5. Mike still struggles to stay calm when we approach an unknown dog, so I've been spending extra time working him with dog distractions.

5 things I'm doing for ME to get ready to hand FLD Mike off for the next step in his journey to an "exceptional life."
  1. Scheduled a pick-up time for a new Future Leader Dog puppy!  (September 18...yippee!)
  2. Reviewing what I've learned working with Mike, and what I want to concentrate on with the "new" puppy.
  3. Taking FLD Mike to our favorite places "one last time."
  4. Letting my nieces say good-bye.
  5. Reminding myself that everything I've done is to help Mike reach his potential to become a special companion to another human being.

FLD Mike.  You are ready.

I think I am too.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Voyageur Encampment

An intrepid pair of Future Leader Dogs and their raisers joined puppy-counselor, Nance, for a visit back in time at Metro Beach Park Saturday.


"Les Coureurs de Bois et Voyageurs de Ste. Claire"

Voyageur canoe--the old way of transport vs the new!

For about 200 years, starting in the 1600's until the mid 1800's, the Great Lakes Fur Trade was dependent on strong-backed, skilled canoe-paddlers of mostly French-Canadian descent.  These stalwart men transported furs for French, British, and later, Canadian and American companies.  The European fashion industry coveted the pelts of beaver and other animals found in abundance in the wilderness of the Great Lakes region.

Voyageur Ray, sewing a new shirt.
This weekend, the shore of Lake St. Clair at Metro Beach was a busy campsite filled with coureurs (unlicensed fur traders) and voyageurs (French for travelers).

These enactors wore authentic hand-made period clothing....

 ...and gave demonstrations on blacksmithing, cannon and musket shooting, fire starting, cooking, paddle carving, sheep shearing, spinning, and more!

Whittler.
Paddler.


The "authority" and coureurs.













Sheep, awaiting shearing.
 
Neither FLD Mike nor FLD Karson flinched when the cannons went off.  The two pups were more interested in each other than anything else!

Nance and FLD Mike


Thanks, Nance, for another great Leader Dogs for the Blind puppy outing!




FLD Karson

FLD Mike, cooling out on the tile at home afterwards.



















For interesting reading about Voyageurs, go to "The Wilderness Classroom" website--click here.

In 1820, Lewis Cass, the Governor of the Michigan Territory, led an expedition to explore the Great Lakes and Mississippi River regions.  Click here to read the entire text of Henry Rose Schoolcraft's narrative of their travels.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Poetry: Haiku Scatology

*Warning, the following content might be best viewed after eating, due to its graphic nature.




black scat

late summer berries
fur-lined pile on the paved road
warn "fudgies go home"



Unidentified scat found on the paved road in front of the cabin, the day after Gypsy's night growling!




*For more information about wild animal scat, check out this website:  http://www.bear-tracker.com/animalscat.html (not for the squeamish).  

Or, go to out this website developed by the University of Michigan (and others),  for kids of all ages:  http://www.biokids.umich.edu/guides/tracks_and_sign/leavebehind/scat/.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Rosie Road, part 13 "Stairs, Sand, and Waves"

Ok, I just can't get away from STAIRS!  Here we go again.....
 

September 5, 2008

FLD Rosie, in the work truck.
Working in the field with Gypsy, FLD Rosie along.  I've had Rosie for about one week.  She still fits in the small wire crate, perched on all my equipment behind the seats in my Invisible Fence truck. 

It is easy to bring her along.  Rosie rides quietly in her crate, content to sleep while I work.  Of course, I did take her on a walk before leaving for work this morning.

My last job of the day is a training session for a rescued two-year-old chocolate lab named Tucker at a house far north of Port Huron.  When I arrive after the long drive, I discover a problem with the signal field.  The older couple has trouble understanding the issues with their long, narrow lot.  I solve things by getting permission from their neighbor to extend the fence wire onto their property, thereby preventing the signal from reaching the inside of my customer's living room.

The simple train turns into a physical afternoon of re-installing the fence.  I don't mind much.  It is a beautiful fall day and a stunning location in which to work.  The house sits atop a tall bluff overlooking Lake Huron.  Waves crash on the beach below.  Wind tickles chimes that hang from a tree branch.  Clouds billow to expose blue sky and sunshine.

Gypsy, tied to a tree behind the house, can't see the water, but she knows the lake is there.  Still, she and FLD Rosie (snuggling in her crate nearby) wait patiently while I finish the re-install, reflag the yard, and train Tucker.  He does awesome, with Gypsy's help as a distraction!

My customers are happy.  Before I depart, I ask if I can bring Gypsy down to their beach so she can swim.  (I also want to take advantage of a learning opportunity for FLD Rosie--negotiating the staircase from the bluff.)  "Of course!"

Sit.  I command Gypsy.  As I unclip her leash and release her, Gypsy bullets down the steep concrete steps to the sand, dashes across to the water, turns, and barks in anticipation of a stick.  Hold on to your shorts, I yell.

FLD Rosie and I are still at the top of the long, precipitous stairs.  Rosie pauses, leans over to look, but backs away with a whine as if to say, "I want to go, but I'm not sure I can!"

I hold her leash loosely and sit on the third step, slapping my fingers on the second to encourage her, Come on Rosie, you can do it! 

Rosie stretches and reaches out with her paw.  There.  She touches the second step and swings her pudgy belly.  Her hinder follows and lands on the step.  Good girl!  I slide down another step and cheer her on.

She hesitates, finally reaches out with her paw again, and plops onto the next step.  That's it!  That's it!  The third step comes a little easier.

Suddenly, she has it and, with a few stumbles, bounces the rest of the way down at my side.

FLD Rosie gets halfway across the sandy beach before she realizes, "This is different!"  She sticks her face into the sand and comes up sneezing with a face full.  I laugh.

To a nine-week-old puppy everything is new.  Sand, waves, and water--she is thrilled with it all!

The homeowners watch from above as I throw a stick again and again for Gypsy, whose greatest joy is swimming after it, and who never seems to tire.  Rosie chases the waves. 

When it is time to go, FLD Rosie has no fear climbing back up the concrete steps, although she is a roly-poly klutz and sometimes misses her mark.

"You can bring your dogs to play here anytime you want,"  my customers exclaim when we finally reach the top.  "We had so much fun watching you!" 

They weren't the only ones who had fun.  I drive home with two wet and tired pups.

FLD Rosie, all tired out!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: "Inside of a Dog"

Inside of a Dog.  What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.

- by Alexandra Horowitz, PhD in cognitive science
  2009, Scribner, New York
  ISBN 978-1-4165-8340-0

Alexandra Horowitz, a self-proclaimed "dog-lover" and scientist, strives to mesh what dog-owners sense about the remarkableness of their pets with current biological and psychological scientific studies of the canine.  

Her book, Inside of a Dog, is readable to the non-scientist, with loads of sources cited at the end of the book, arranged by chapter.  Just in case you are interested in reading the research on your own.

But you don't have to.

Horowitz's writing is interesting, entertaining, and easy to understand, even when citing studies by  scientists such as the German biologist Jakob von Uexkull or Russian geneticist Dmitry Belyaev (pages 20 and 35).  She introduces each chapter with a short narrative of her dog, Pumpkin, which relates to the topic of the chapter.

Horowitz warns against "anthropomorphisms"--projecting human traits onto our dogs' behavior.
...we are bringing animals inside and asking them to become members of our families.  For that purpose, anthropomorphisms fail to help us incorporate those animals into our homes, and have the smoothest, fullest relationships with them.  This is not so say that we're always wrong with our attributions:  it might be true that our dog is sad, jealous, inquisitive, depressed--or desiring a peanut butter sandwich for lunch.  But we are almost certainly not justified in claiming, say, depression from the evidence before us:  the mournful eyes, the loud sigh.  Our projections onto animals are often impoverished--or entirely off the mark...   p. 15-16

There were two specific things I learned from reading Horowitz's book which cause me to ponder what I think I know about dogs.  Canine olfactory and visual senses.


OLFACTORY

I understand that dogs view life through their noses more than humans do, but what I didn't realize is that dogs possess a vomeronasal organ between the roof of their mouth and their nose.  This specialized "sniffing" machine captures pheromones, hormone-like chemicals secreted by animals.  The wet nose of a dog helps the dog's vomeronasal organ to distinguish these chemicals.   So, dogs not only have two to three hundred million smelling receptors (humans have a mere six million) to help them sense the world through their noses, they have an additional sensing organ!

FLD Mike's wet nose.


VISUAL

Surprisingly, I did know prior to reading Inside of a Dog that human eyes "see" at the rate of about 60 frames per second, but I didn't know that this is called the "flicker-fusion" rate.  What I learned is that dogs "see" at a faster rate than we do, at 70 to 80 frames per second.  It's not just that they see things faster, but they see "more" things every second.  To demonstrate, think of high-speed photography and how it "freezes" motion that our eyes cannot discern.  Amazing, isn't it?

Gypsy, taking in the world.

I recommend Horowitz's book to anyone interested in learning more about dogs.  You will not be disappointed.  

You can read about Alexandra Horowitz by clicking here, or her learn more about her book Inside of a Dog (including excerpts) by clicking here.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: STAIRS

Between the 300 stairs at Iargo Springs on Saturday with FLD Mike, the stairs Andy and I climbed at the Springs on Friday (plus the extra 260 I did at the Lumberman's Monument), and the 87 steps at Thompson's Landing on Thursday, I have stairs on my mind.  

NOT because I'm starting to think about the 2011 "Fight for Air Climb" to benefit the American Lung Association.  (For more information about the ALA climb, or to join my team "patti's pack" or to make a donation, click here.)

Stairclimbing is great exercise for me, but for a Future Leader Dog like Mike, it is crucial that he learns to heel easily up and down stairs.  He needs to have confidence on any type of stairs (open or closed, steel, wood, cement, or carpeted) and be cool, calm and collected in either direction.

Close your eyes the next time you descend a staircase and you'll understand why a Leader Dog for the Blind must advance with his or her handler at a slow and easy pace.



A YOUNG PUPPY NEW TO STAIRS

To help your young puppy feel confident on stairs, introduce him/her to a short flight (like up to a porch) as soon as you can.  When FLD Mike came home with us at age seven weeks, I had him manage the three steps up to our back door, and then the short step to come in.

Helping FLD Rosie on steps in 2009.
Going up seems to be no problem for a curious young pup; coming down is a bit scarier.  I have to admit, though, that frequently I carried Mike out to "park" the first week or so because I was in a hurry!  So, his going-down-the-stairs exposure was not as repetitive as his coming-up.

I also did not show FLD Mike our stairway to our second floor, or to the basement, until he was potty-trained on the main floor.  When I finally did, I followed these "steps" (pun intended!):
  • Start with a flight of steps going UP.  You can use a leash, but I did not the first time with FLD Mike.
  • If your puppy is nervous or shy about ascending, coax him/her with your voice.  Wiggle your fingers on the steps above.
  • Give lots of praise!
  • Let your puppy manage on his/her own.  You can also use treats, but be careful not to "lure" your puppy--drop a morsel of food on the steps above and let your puppy discover them.
  • Your puppy will likely be more nervous about descending.  Sit on the stairs just below your puppy to encourage him/her to follow you until you are all the way down.
  • Lots of praise, always!

Before you know it, your puppy will master the coordination necessary to tackle stairs!  Now the issue becomes controlling your puppy on-leash in a HEEL to prevent him/her from leaping onto or off the last few steps.


HEELING ON STAIRS

  • Before each flight of stairs, going UP or DOWN, command your puppy into a SIT.  This helps to slow him/her down and to refocus on you.  Remember to use your puppy's name before the SIT command.
  • Keep a short leash.  Your puppy should NOT get ahead of you.
  • Take the first step and stop.  If your puppy pulls on the leash, don't continue until the leash is loose.  Just like "backwards walking," your puppy needs to learn that he/she cannot go forward unless there is no tension on the leash.  For safety, you should not try to go backwards on the stairs--just stop until your puppy stops pulling.
  • Take each step slowly, stopping when there is tension on the leash.
  • Praise your puppy if he/she is relaxed, but be careful not to over-praise your puppy into an excited leap!
TIPS

Always take stairs at a slow, controlled pace with your puppy heeling next to you.

Practice on a variety of stairs, both inside and out.  Whenever you see stairs, take them!


I was glad of the opportunity to work FLD Mike on the open wooden staircase at Iargo Springs.  We kept a slow pace and I made Mike SIT at each of its many landings.  It took quite a while for us to make it down to see the lovely springs--and almost as much time to return to the top! 


FLD Mike's first step up cement stairs in Lansing.  Age 10 weeks.

Looking up those stairs!  He made it all the way.


Monday, August 23, 2010

STAIRS!

Iargo Springs.  A 200 foot drop to water's edge via 300 wooden steps.  At the bottom is 1500 feet of boardwalk (and more steps!) along the forest floor, leading to views of natural springs, wild-flowers, and the Au Sable River.

Mystical.

Andy and I scaled these stairs when we stopped on our bike ride from the cabin to the Lumberman's Monument on Friday. (I also tackled the 260 steps down to the river at the Monument.  Andy declined.) 

I brought FLD Mike to Iargo on Saturday to practice stairs--well over 35 landings to pause, SIT, and HEEL.

FLD Mike, considering the descent.

The night's rain left the woods dripping in humidity.  Fog hovered above the icy waters of the spring.  As I crouched to take a picture of mushrooms on a log resting in the stream, chill licked my face.  My glasses fogged.



FLD Mike waiting patiently while I play with my camera.

Corn-lily.










Time to go.  Back.  UP.


Here's a short video of FLD Mike and me making our way...

video

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Night Noises in Northern Woods

Quiet has descended. 

Well, as quiet as the northern woods can be in late August.  Crickets chirping, frogs bellowing, a myriad of I-don't-know-what-kind of insects singing.

But the cicadas were silent (as kids we called them "katy-dids").  They've been reverberating all summer.  Weather prediction by "patti" when the katy-dids drone:  It's going to be hot tomorrow.  I don't miss the buzzing of their tymbals high in the trees.  Temps tonight are already below 60.  It is NOT going to be hot tomrrow.

Good thing.  There is no air-conditioning here in the cabin.

I'm reading Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird snuggled under the comforter next to Andy, who is already alseep.

Just as Scout Finch, swallowed by her Halloween ham costume, waddles toward home in the dark with her brother Jem (and about to be assaulted by Bob Ewell), Gyspy BARKS.  And throats a low growl.

I almost drop the book.

Gypsy, I whisper.  She growls again.

The outside chorus abruptly stops.  I hear FLD Mike shift in his crate.  I hold my breath, but I can't hear anything else.

Breathe.

Gypsy paces, now clicky-clacking her nails on the wood floor, now silent as she steps onto a rug.  She rumbles.  The cricket and bug brigade take up the refrain.

Eventually Gypsy settles.  Andy never stirs.  I guess it's nothing, but the book can wait until tomorrow.  As I turn off the bedside light, I remember my brother's email from last week.  The Chain Lake homeowner's association issued a bear warning--seems a black bear has been making off with some bird feeders.  I'm glad there are no feeders here.

In the morning, there is no evidence of a bear visit.  (And I won't spoil the end of Harper Lee's book if by some incredible chance you haven't read it or seen the movie...)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fun at the Cabin

Here is a picture of a Monarch butterfly, like the ones that followed me and the dogs yesterday on our walk.  This one was resting on the side of the road as we walked by.

Andy and I took FLD Mike and Gypsy for a couple walks today.  We  checked out Thompson's Landing along the Au Sable River. 

Wow--87 steps down to the river.  And 87 steps back up!  Good stair practice for FLD Mike.

Andy and Gypsy are almost to the top.






















Later, we took a short walk by the cabin.  And played.

FLD Mike sitting nicely at water's edge.


Andy finds Gypsy a stick.  Look who else is interested!


I think FLD Mike is happy to be up north with us!  (We are too.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Lease is Almost Up

Today I took FLD Mike and Gypsy on a dirt-road walk around Chain Lake in upper Michigan.  Andy was off to Gaylord for a meeting.

Both dogs were anxious to go.  After a long drive to get up here after puppy-class last night, and waiting around the cabin all morning for the technician from Century Link to connect our Internet access (so Andy can work from here and I won't have to drive to Alcona Park to make my blog posts), the three of us were ready for some physical activity.

Our afternoon excursion was just less than three miles.  The shaded road took us close by a swimming beach filled with screaming kids.  Gypsy wanted to get into the water too, which got Mike excited, but we passed on.  I was proud of FLD Mike.  He showed interest, nosing the air toward the youngsters, yet did not pull me off my feet to get to them.

Admittingly, we did a fair share of backwards walking for the first mile or so, but FLD Mike settled in to resist a chasing Boston Terrier loose from its owner (I was surprised how far back Mike's head could stretch), a flock of four wild turkeys strutting across the road in a dance-line, and several Monarch butterflies who seemed to take an interest in us.

Back at the cabin, after waiting his turn behind Gypsy for a long slurp of cool well-water, FLD Mike slid to the green-painted-wood floor with a huge sigh.

In less than one month, FLD Mike returns to Leader Dogs for the Blind.  September 13 will be a sad day, but we are hopeful that Mike is destined to "live an exceptional life" as someone else's eyes.

I am ready.

I feel like I've done my best to get him ready.  He isn't bothered by thunder, heavy traffic, or other loud noises; he tends to lie under foot, content to wait for me to get on the move; he settles in his crate at night or whenever we leave him alone in the house.  He's confident and relaxed in public, although he does get worked up when we approach another dog.  Something for me to work on, I suppose, during the next few weeks.

Mostly, these days, it seems we are both just biding time.

I overheard a puppy-raiser describe her Future Leader Dog as  "leased" when asked the inevitable question "Isn't it hard to give them up?"  That's it exactly!  We turn them in on their first birthday when the lease is up.  And exchange them for a "newer" model.

After we return FLD Mike back to Leader Dogs for the Blind, Andy and I are taking a trip to the U.P.'s Porcupine Mountains.  I'll pick up a new "lease" puppy when we come home.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: HELP, MY PUPPY IS A TEEN-AGER!

Frequently, when meeting strangers who have dogs at home, the conversation turns to "bad behavior."  It goes like this.  The person asks, "How do you keep your dog from jumping on people when they come in the door?"  Or, "Whenever I leave Fluffy in the house alone she tears something up!  How do you stop that?"

I always struggle with my response, because I know the person is looking for an easy "fix."  Unfortunately, while I think there might be a fix, it is usually not "easy," and a two-minute conversation is not enough time for me to fully explain things.

Ideally, I would observe the dog in the home while I interviewed the owner.  Owners who coddle and pet their anxious, vocal dog are not soothing it; rather, they are reinforcing the dog's bad behavior!

In many cases, the bad behavior of the dog stems from poor leadership and misguided expectations on the part of the owner.  Good behavior in the dog often requires a change in the behavior of the humans living with the dog.  Who wants to hear that?


PUPPY ADOLESCENCE

There is one time when even a properly raised puppy can develop unwanted behavior, or irritating problems can become huge problems--PUBERTY.  Dogs undergo hormonal changes as they sexually mature (from about six months of age onward).  During this phase they may "challenge" your authority; it may seem that everything you taught them went in one ear and out the other.  (For more on this, click here to read the article, "Adolescent Dogs" by Gina Micciulla.)

When I was in Ohio last month attending my brother Jim's Installation Service, my husband Andy, who had stayed home with the dogs, said to me on the phone, "Guess what Mike did today?"

What now?  I asked, hesitantly.

"When I walked him out to 'park' this morning, he lifted his leg against the fence!"  At nine-months, FLD Mike was maturing. 

Don't let him do that!  I warned.  I knew I had a job to do when I got home.  FLD Mike started "marking" in the house soon after.


A POTTY-TRAINING "REVIEW"
FLD Mike's marking, or the "fixing" of it, is MY responsibility.  The second (and so far, the last) time Mike "marked" in the house was after a prolonged play period with my nieces.  I wasn't watching him carefully and he peed on the wall upstairs.  I had to revert to potty-training like he was eight weeks old again, following my "review" rules:

1.  KEEP CLOSE WATCH
  • No unsupervised time in the house.
  • "Park" on-leash, NEVER near an upright object where he can "mark."
  • Stay vigilant on walks, especially when passing trees, fences, bushes, etc.
  • Take him out frequently to "park," especially after heavy play or drinking.
2.  PROPER CLEAN-UP with an enzyme cleaner (like Nature's Miracle).

3.  "CORRECT" when he starts to lift his leg.

It is best to "catch" him when he's sniffing around.  The other morning, FLD Mike was sniffing the couch where Gypsy had lain.  He sniffed from one direction, turned, and sniffed some more.  As he moved his body closer, I yelled, NO!  He stopped, moved away, and looked at me as if to say, "What?!"  But, he didn't mark, and he hasn't since.



STRATEGIES FOR OTHER BAD BEHAVIORS
(Such as counter surfing, pulling on leash, barking, chewing inappropriate items, etc.)


EXERCISE

This approach is to circumvent the behavior.  Remember, a tired puppy is a good puppy!  An un-neutered male dog has 13 times the testosterone in his body than a neutered male.  That means he will need twice as much exercise!


MENTAL STIMULATION
  • Obedience exercises.  Take five or ten minutes several times a day and have your puppy SIT, DOWN, STAND, STAY, COME, MAT, etc.  Whatever commands he or she knows, run through them.
  • Long DOWN-STAYS or SETTLES.  Your puppy is "working" when he or she is settled near you, waiting for a release or another command.
  • For us Future Leader Dog puppy-raisers, that stimulation comes whenever we bring our puppy out in public!

SET THE DOG UP TO "CORRECT" THE SPECIFIC BEHAVIOR

For instance, stage a temptation with a dog that "counter surfs."  Put a piece of cheese, or a treat, close to the edge of the counter.  With your dog on leash, let him or her sniff at it.  Use the LEAVE IT command.  Reward the dog when he or she looks at you instead of the temptation.  (Note:  even though the use of treats in training should have been phased out by this age, it is fine to reintroduce treats as a reward in high distraction situations such as this.)

Practice this exercise frequently.  When your dog starts to show disinterest, do the exercise off-leash.  This time, drop a cookie sheet, or a can filled with coins, when your dog begins to sniff at the temptation.  The idea is similar to potty-training--you want to "catch" your dog JUST as he or she is THINKING about grabbing that tasty treat on the counter.  TIMING IS CRUCIAL.


If you are diligent, consistent, and persistent (!) with your adolescent puppy, eventually he or she will sustain all the obedience and good behavior learned from you before the onslaught of hormones.  Like Andy reassured me during his children's teen years, "Statistically, they'll make it through this!"

So will you AND your puppy!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

LOSS

Was it just coincidence that brought me to the bike path on a muggy Friday the 13th morning?  The night before, my friend and I discussed several places to take a walk with FLD Mike.  What made us decide to trek along this path, to be met at just the right moment by a passing bicyclist?  The rider, a good friend of a man who is now gone, somehow recognized me.  He stopped his bike.

"You heard about Kevin?"  he asked.

Our walk had been filled with stories about Kevin; my friend and I both knew him.  For years.   Yes, I said.

"Tell everyone you know.  We are going to have cyclists ride with the funeral procession.  There might be over 200 riders.  Tell everyone to gather at 9:00 am on Monday." 

I will.


With the receipt of FLD Mike's First Birthday Card last weekend, I was reminded that my responsibility for this Future Leader Dog puppy is just about over.  September 13 will be a sad day when we say good-bye.

But letting go of FLD Mike so he can go on to "live an exceptional life," is not the same as experiencing a real loss.

Genuine loss is the dark that remains when an inspirational spotlight is suddenly extinguished.

It takes a while for our eyes to adjust.


WHEN I MET KEVIN DEGEN

The double pace-line had made the far turn and was heading back to the checkpoint near the Casino building on Belle Isle.  The year was 1985, or maybe 1986.  Late May, the Wolverine 200 Mile 24 Hour Bike Marathon.  Lou and I, strong on our tandem, relished the rush of pace-line speed, freewheels whirring behind us.  We pulled the outside line.

Lou spotted him first.  He was sitting dejectedly on the grass berm on the opposite side of the road with his three-wheeled racing bike upside down beside him--the front wheel a pretzel.

"Stop the bike!" Lou screamed.  I glanced in my helmet mirror, quickly signaled to the group that we were dropping off to their left.  The line blurred by us as we maneuvered between bicyclists heading the other direction.

Need some help? I asked.

Kevin Degen looked up.  His cerebral palsy muddled his speech, but not enough that we couldn't understand him.   Kevin had taken a spill after hitting a nasty pothole; his front wheel was un-rideable.

"You can fix it, Patti," Lou said.  She always had more confidence in me than I had in myself.  "She fixed our tandem wheel last week when we twisted it in some sand on the side of the road up in Lakeville.  After she straightened it, we rode 25 miles on it to get home!"

I removed Kevin's wheel, loosened all the spokes, and used a nearby tree trunk to pound the rim out of its pretzel shape.  Back on the bike, I used the brake pads as a make-do truing stand, retightening the spokes.  The wheel was as round as it was ever going to be.  It'll have to be replaced, but you should be able to finish the ride.

"Thanks," Kevin smiled and worked his way up onto the saddle.  Lou and I watched in amazement as he cycled off, able to use only the left side of his body to pedal, steer, and brake.

Kevin (and me) at the finish of his cross-country ride in 2000.

Bicycling was Kevin's life.  He frequently rode over 3000 miles a year, raising money for charities and promoting the abilities of the disabled.  "If I can do it, so can you," he often remarked.

Kevin Degen died this week.

The world has truly lost an exceptional life.


Come join Kevin's fellow bicycles on Monday morning at 9:00 am as we escort him from his funeral at Holy Name Catholic Church in Birmingham, to his final rest-stop at While Chapel Cemetery in Troy.  

For more information, click here. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

HELP WANTED

Important positions need to be filled
as soon as possible!

Please click here to apply.


JOB TITLE(s)
Finger Sweeper, Pooper-Scooper, Backwards Walker.


WORKING REQUIREMENTS
  • Must be able to take three steps back for every step forward without getting frustrated.
  • Must be able to spend the first weeks in training, around the clock with little sleep.
  • Must be able to continue training for up to one year.
  • Must be able to bend over frequently to remove objects from a needle-rimmed orifice.
  • Must be able to sit for long periods settling a squirming ball of fur while fending off well-meaning strangers.
  • Must be able to be accompanied by a four-legged "chic-magnet" almost everywhere you go.

QUALIFICATIONS
  • Must be willing to routinely swap socks, remote controls, toilet paper, and miscellaneous household items with Nylabones and Kongs.
  • Must be willing to open your heart and home.
  • Must be willing to be adopted into a new family of supporters.
  • Must be willing to accept a wave of smiles whenever you are in public with your charge.
  • Must be prepared to participate in a life-changing endeavor.

WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT
  • No income.
  • Expenses to be absorbed by yourself.
  • Puppy breath and kisses. 
  • Gratification knowing you helped enrich another person's life.

INITIAL SUPPLIES

This job is available immediately!
Fill out your application HERE.

Contact Leader Dogs for the Blind for more information.
Breeding stock host families are needed also!


(*This blogger does not necessarily endorse PetCo as a supplier.  Pet Supplies Plus has supported Leader Dogs for the Blind and are another great choice, but they do not have an on-line store.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Many Faces of FLD Mike


I find myself endlessly fascinated.  Watching him.  Watching FLD Mike, but no more today (knowing how little time I have with him) than when I first brought him home and 10 months seemed like it might last for 10 years.  

You may have noticed the banner picture I added earlier today.  Can you see me gazing as Mike gazes back at me?

I attempt to capture his personality digitally, recorded on a small square computer chip via the glass and mirrors of my DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera.

Have I succeeded?


In the evening, Mike seduces me as I relax on the couch.       "Hey there sweetie, how's about a snuggle?"   



I can't resist.  How's this?  Comfy?


"Oh yea...this is heaven!"


"Was it good for you?"





On the bus, FLD Mike snoozes into the aisle.


"What, they can't walk around me?"



Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: MAT

FLD Mike stands in alert before I even hear the knocking on our door.  Gypsy blasts by him, howling, singing, and otherwise announcing the arrival.  Mike pursues in a black-lab-pant.

Mike. Mat.  I command, in vain.  When Gypsy is wound up like this, it is challenging to get Mike to pay attention to me.

But I persist.  I tell Gypsy, Quiet, and take Mike by the collar to put him on his mat in the kitchen.  Mike.  Down.   Now he looks at me and drops.  

Good boy, Mike!  Stay.  This is trying for FLD Mike.  Gypsy races by again to grab a Nylabone or Kong from the living room; whichever is closest will do.  She prances back, verbalizing as best she can around the Kong in her mouth.  I'm always amused at how many sounds she can make with a jaw-full!

Our friends enter.  Gypsy circles them, toy-in-mouth, and leads them into the living room.

The extra work on "mat" we've been doing pays off.  FLD Mike rocks his rear end onto his side and settles, content to watch.  Settling like this on "mat" is an excellent exercise in self-control, especially with the stimulation of someone new entering the household.


MAT


EQUIPMENT
  • A "mat."  This can be a bath towel folded in half, or a door-mat, or a carpet scrap.
  • Treats (I use bits of my puppy's food--which are included in his daily total).

SET UP
  • Start with your puppy on-leash.
  • Place the mat against a wall.

PREREQUISITES
  • Your puppy should know the "down" command in low distraction settings.
  • Your puppy should "settle" well and hold a "down-stay" for several seconds.

GOALS
  • That your puppy understands he or she must walk onto the mat at the command "mat" (some say "go to your mat").
  • That once on the mat your puppy should lie "down" and wait for further instructions, or release.
 

TEACHING THE "MAT" COMMAND
has two components, SEND and STAY:

1.  SEND
  • On leash, stand in front of the mat with your puppy on your left side.  (When I taught "mat" to clients, I frequently had them heel their puppy over the mat first, to make sure the puppy was not adverse to stepping on it.  It's up to you.)
  • Move toward the mat with your puppy and point to it.
  • As soon as your puppy touches the mat, drop a treat onto the mat.
  • Do NOT give the treat from your hand--you want your puppy to think the "mat" is the source of the treats.  Do not "lure" with the treat.  Drop the treat on the mat.  Treats on the mat will leave an enticing scent on the mat, attracting your puppy to the mat.  It won't take long for him or her to get the idea.
  • Release and repeat.
  • After a few times, add the word "mat" as you point.  Say the command ONLY ONE TIME.
  • Keep things fun and your puppy's enthusiasm up by encouraging him or her as he or she walks to the mat.
  • When your puppy is eagerly heading to the mat, try stopping a step away to "send" your puppy to the mat with your point and command.
  • Treat, release, and repeat!
Congratulations!  Your puppy is getting it!   After 15-20 minutes, release your puppy and take at least a one-hour break from any more training.  This exercise can be repeated several times a day (with breaks in-between).

Progress slowly!  If your puppy reliably (80% of the time) steps on the mat when you stop and point from one-step away, increase the distance to two-steps.  Stay at that distance until your puppy is reliable (80% of the time), and then increase by one more step.  You should also approach the mat from different directions, from the same distance.

Leave the "mat" in the initial place for at least a week, even when you are not working the command.  Anytime you notice your puppy going to the "mat" on his or her own, give praise ("Good mat!") and be ready to drop a few treats on the mat as a reward.

After practicing at least a week, try moving the mat to a different location.  You may find you'll have to start the exercise as if your puppy forgot what to do--that's because your puppy can't generalize.  (For more on generalization, see my "Definitions" page.)

Rosie & her "wubbie."
The mat should be a pleasurable place for your puppy.  I used a folded towel to teach my first Future Leader dog, Rosie, "mat."  Rosie so enjoyed her "mat" that soon she carried it everywhere--here in the sun in the kitchen, under my writing desk upstairs, next to the couch at the end of the day.  We dubbed it her "wubbie."   

FLD Mike thinks being sent to his "mat" is a game--I "hide" his mat upstairs, down in the basement, in the bathroom, wherever...and he searches until he finds it.


2.  STAY
  • After your puppy is reliable (remember that 80% of the time rule?) going to the mat on command from a step or two away, and from different directions, command your puppy into a "down" on the mat.
  • Drop a treat where he or she can get it without moving out of the "down."
  • Have your puppy hold the "down" for a few seconds.
  • Release and repeat!
  • Gradually increase the time your puppy holds the "down" position.
  • Introduce distractions to insure that your puppy will stay.  For instance, have someone walk by, or play with a toy just out of reach.  Remember to praise and reward the correct behavior!

TIPS
  • Gradually reduce the treats.
  • Remove the leash if your puppy is reliably going to the "mat," but be prepared to re-clip the leash in a new setting, or when there are bigger distractions.
  • If your puppy seems "lost" when you try to send him or her to the mat from a distance, you might have increased the distance too quickly.  Guide him or her to the mat and next time move closer before sending.
  • Give your puppy a special treat, such as a peanut-butter-filled Kong, when you want your puppy to stay on the mat for longer periods.  Eventually, your puppy should be able to stay on the mat until he or she is released.

FLD Mike on his "mat."

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Bigger Job

Monday, August 9, 2010

Getting something other than a bill or junk advertising in your mailbox these days can be exciting.  But for 11 volunteer puppy-raisers this past weekend, finding the larger-than-letter-sized envelope with the Leader Dogs for the Blind return address brought lumps to all of our throats.


FUTURE LEADER DOGS
Mike, Radar, Chloe, Raven, Molly, Nora, Claire, Callie, Madison, Pepper, and Gabby (siblings all) received their first "Birthday Cards" from Leader Dogs for the Blind.

The card is a very nice gesture, but what comes along with the birthday card is what makes our hearts jump into our throats.  Our puppy's return date.  (Mike and Radar go back on the 13th of September, the others go later in October.)


We all knew what we were getting into when we signed our puppy-raiser contract with Leader Dogs last November.  These bundles of joy are not ours to keep, even though they stole our hearts.

Where did the year go?  

The first few weeks seemed to take forever--no sleep, constant vigil for signs our puppies are looking for a place to "park," a thousand times sweeping stuff out of needle-teethed mouths, three-steps backwards walking for every step forward.  The accelerated learning curve of the crucial age before 16 weeks.

Where did the year go?

Suddenly, we noticed our puppies maturing.  The females went into heat; the males began to lift their legs.  Particularly aggravating was the adolescent challenge, "You want me to do what?!"  I'm sure I haven't been the only raiser who was tempted to send a seven-or-eight-month old puppy back to Leader Dogs early!

We hung on.  We shared stories, adventures, pictures, and videos.  We aired our frustrations, offering and receiving advice and understanding via emails.  We kept in close contact through the attentions of Julia, the young girl whose family hosts Reece, the mother of these amazing 11 puppies.

Where did the year go?

Now we share some tears, knowing what's just ahead of us.

Strangers ask of us, "Isn't it hard to give them up?"  Of course it is.  But we get over it.  Many of us go on to do it again, in spite of the difficulty.  We know that what we do is more than just about us.  We are privileged to be a part of an organization that is devoted to "enhancing the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired."

Our tears are also tears of pride.  

We've done the best best we could to prepare our incredible charges for the next phase of their journey at Leader Dogs for the Blind.  

When our puppies return to Leader Dogs, they first must pass a series of physical exams.  An exceptional puppy might be selected for the Leader Dogs breeding program (by the way, host families are needed for breeders--especially moms).  Exams passed, the rest are neutered or spayed and sent into advanced training.  Four phases, four months.

 Our tears are also tears of hope.

Then we wait.  It's hard not to pester the Leader Dogs Puppy Department for news about our puppy-in-training.  Sometimes no news is good news--not every dog is cut out to do this important job.

If our puppies decide "to live an exceptional life" as a Leader Dog, they are placed with a vision-impaired person; together, they continue with 26 more days of training.  Imagine what it must be like to learn to "trust" this bundle of canine capacity to lead you through a darkened world.

Our tears are because we know our puppies are so much more than us.

This morning, I overheard my husband Andy say to FLD Mike, as Mike pestered him for attention:  "Mike,  you have a bigger job to attend to than me."


A special thank-you to Julia, for bringing us together.
Thank-you to FLD Mike's siblings' raisers, for sharing. 
A big thank-you to Andy, for understanding. 
Thank-you to everyone at Leader Dogs for making this possible.
And a thank-you to you, reader, for caring enough to read.