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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cabin Strategies to Achieve "A Tired Puppy is a Good Puppy."

We unload the van and drop the boat trailer in the cabin drive.  First things first--we need to tire out the puppy.

"Let's take the dogs over to Thompson's Landing on the Au Sable," Andy suggests.

Perfect.  It's only a few miles away, the 87 steps down to the river will be excellent practice for FLD Gus, it's warm enough for Gypsy to go swimming after a stick (her favorite thing), and it might be fun to see what Gus does when Gypsy goes bounding into the water.

Gypsy and Gus are raring to go after spending the morning in the van.  I'm surprised that Gus tackles the 87 wooden steps without missing a beat.  He is focused on the spattering of red and yellow leaves that litter the stairs; it doesn't take much encouragement from me to get him to plop his chubby legs from step to step.

"Bark!"  Gypsy is already at the river bank demanding a thrown stick.  I clip my 15 foot lead onto Gus's collar and unclip his short leash.  "I'm coming," Andy says.  I look back up the staircase and see that he is trudging down with two large sticks.  "I've got a backup stick this time."  Gypsy is notorious for destroying sticks in her enthsiasm.

Andy throws one of the sticks into the middle of the wide Au Sable.  Gypsy boing-boing-boings into the water until she can't touch the bottom without going under; then kicks into her wake-producing retrieve swim, her tail wagging above the surface like a flag.

FLD Gus back on shore.
FLD Gus bounces after her.  Suddenly he senses something different underfoot.  He bounces back to dry land in wonder.  "What was that?!"  Before he can figure out what happened, Gypsy is back to shore for another throw.  Gus chases, but Gypsy can't be bothered.  Swimming for sticks is important business!

"Bark!"  Andy throws.  Gypsy boings.  Gus bounces to the river's edge and stops, content to watch from dry land.


FLD Gus, watching Gypsy from the safety of shore.

After several throws, Gypsy doesn't drop the stick at Andy's feet--she hangs in the shallows, biting frantically at the stick, a sure sign she is tiring.  An nine years old she finally knows when to quit.

"Let's hike down the trail a bit so she can dry off," Andy says.  Back up the 87 steps!  Andy and Gypsy take off ahead.  I gather up the long lead and ask Gus to SIT at the bottom.  Gus sits on command at home, but here there are too many distractions.  I help him.  Then  I lift him onto the first step because it is too high; I wonder how he'll manage the rest of the open steps.  No problem!  Gus eagerly hops up step to step, his baby legs not long enough to take them any other way.

Take it easy, Gus, we've got a long way to go!  I laugh.  With about 20 steps to go, Gus slows, but makes it the rest of the way on his own.

Gypsy, drying in the field.


When we hit the trail, I let Gus run the length of the long lead.  He tries to keep up with Gypsy, but soon he's waddling in a nice heel at my left side.



FLD Gus, in the field, trying to find Gypsy.

Mission accomplished--a tired puppy!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

FLD Gus Heads to the North Country

Andy says, "It was brilliant to put his bed there."  We are on our way north to the cabin, FLD Gus's first foray into the Huron National Forest.

I peek down at my feet.  Gus has finally settled.  He is snoozing on his back in his $5.99 CVS pet bed, his precious Buddha-belly exposed to the world.  Looks like we have another traveler, I answer.  Rosie and Mike, our first two Future Leader Dogs, behaved wonderfully in the van.  And Gypsy still does, of course!

Leader Dogs for the Blind asks us to train our Future Leader Dog puppies to sit on the passenger side floor of our vhicles.  An eight-week-old puppy can be a handful, redirecting his ever-inquisitive attention away from under-the-seat wiring, clamps, and who-knows-what-else under the dash (have you ever looked under there?).  Here Gus, chew this, I said a gazillion times before we merged onto I-75 North, sticking a puppy Nylabone into his land-shark mouth while hoping to keep my fingers clear.

Every blood-clot-prevention rest-stop for Andy is an opportunity to "park" Gus and tire him out by running around after Gypsy.  By the time we survive the Zilwaukee Bridge crossing (learn more about the infamous 1982 mishap at this Michigan Highways website), FLD Gus is crapped out.

Time for me to relax and enjoy the drive.

FLD Gus, asleep at my feet in the van.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: INTRODUCING YOUR PUPPY TO YOUR DOG AT HOME

Yesterday's post is an example of a good outcome when bringing a new puppy into the domain of your own dog.  The incident I described occurred five days after FLD Gus joined our family.  My dog, Gypsy, is a nine-year-old female mutt, set in her ways and a bit nervous of other dogs.  I was careful about how I introduced Gus to Gypsy; she needed the space to let Gus know who ruled the house, and Gus needed to understand how to respond.

This is how we did it.


FIRST INTRODUCTIONS ON NEUTRAL TERRITORY--OUTSIDE

When we got to our townhouse with FLD Gus, I immediately walked him on-leash to a grassy common area to "park."  Andy went inside and brought Gypsy out, also on-leash.  Gus instantly wanted to jump to Gypsy, but she only glanced away.  Andy and I kept them far enough apart so there was no contact.  I let Gus sniff around and follow after Gypsy.  Before we took them inside, I picked Gus up and held him so Gypsy could "check him out."


SEGREGATED AREAS INSIDE

An adjustable pen is an invaluable tool; both for housebreaking and for helping everyone in the household adjust.  (I need a break from the enthusiastic pup once in a while!)  The pen I use has six plastic panels that can be separated or folded up.  I cordon off a corner in our tile-floor kitchen by the door wall to the patio.  Inside this pen are Gus's small crate, various toys, his cushy bed, and stainless steel food dishes.  (Click on this link for information about this pen.)

Initially, I stayed in the kitchen with Gus when he was free in the pen so I could snatch him up to go "park" when I saw that he was thinking of relieving himself.  If I left the kitchen, Gus went into his crate.  This encouraged him to control his bladder, as puppies instinctively avoid messing in their "den."

After a day or so, I took three panels and sectioned off the opening from the kitchen to the living room, giving Gus run of the entire kitchen area.  I still stayed here with him, to continue monitoring his need to "park."  If I left the kitchen, I repositioned the panels into the smaller pen, but no longer restricted Gus to the crate.  He soon learned to "hold" him self in the pen area.

During these days, I kept Gypsy and Gus apart.


GRADUALLY LET THE PUPPY AND DOG INTERACT

Every evening, I allowed Gus to join us in the living room.  The first few times I kept the leash on him, dragging as a "handle" so I could control his movement and quickly grab him up if he looked like he was about to "park," or get too close to Gypsy.  Gus needed to find out Gypsy's "rules" on his own; the leash prevented a problem if he didn't back off when Gypsy warned him.  Luckily, Gus is a smart puppy and Gypsy got her message across:  "Leave me alone, bud!"

Now Gus comes into the living room in the evening off-leash, free to interact with Gypsy as she allows.  After his "stalking" incident, Gus is very cautious.  He won't go into Gypsy's bed when she's not in it; instead, he approaches it in much the same manner as he did when she warned him away!  Without her there, he gets close enough to sniff the corners, yet backs away if she rumbles from her perch on the couch.


LET THEM WORK IT OUT

Living in a townhouse without a large, fenced-in backyard has its limitations.  Andy and I take the two dogs out to our common area on leashes.  Gypsy runs and plays.  Gus chases after her--but not too close!  Gypsy keeps him on his toes.  It is amazing to me how well they communicate. Someone once told me, "Let your dogs work it out themselves.  Unless there is blood flying, I wouldn't worry about it!"

This interaction with Gypsy and a new puppy has happened with each of my three Leader Dogs for the Blind puppies.  Each time she adapts more quickly, and with less stress.  Just the other day, she even tried to play with Gus.  Of course, Gus wasn't too sure about that!

Here is FLD Mike's approach to Gypsy last fall--very much the same way as FLD Gus did the other day!  (Notice how Gypsy is glancing away:  "If I don't see him, he's not really there!")

Monday, September 27, 2010

FLD Gus Meets Gypsy

FLD Gus spots Gypsy curled up in her cushy bed in the living room corner.

He is interested.  One of Gypsy's ears crooks, but her nose stays buried.  Gus drops his nose to the floor, eyes intent on the bigger dog.

He lifts his right rear leg high, ever so cautiously, as if he is stalking through knee-deep water and he doesn't want to make a splash.  His leg pauses near his belly as Gypsy stirs.  She quiets.  Gus places his rear paw lightly down a few inches forward, shifts his weight, and raises his front left paw to his chest in one fluid slow-motion move, nose still brushing the rug, eyes never straying away.

No movement from the queen in the corner.

Gus continues his cautious approach; now his left rear paw lifts and inches forward, his weight shifts again, now his right front paw curls and extends; all in the same wary manner.

He reaches the edge of the rug.  Gypsy raises her head, both ears alert at airplane attention.

Gus fixes his right pad on the smooth hardwood floor beyond the rug as his right rear paw halts in midair.  He is a statue in point.

Gypsy yawns a condescending warning.

Without lifting his nose from the floor, without averting his eyes, Gus shifts his slow motion stalk into reverse.  He stretches his right paw backwards a few inches and sets it gently on the rug, shifts his weight, and bit-by-bit inches his way back to his starting point.

In acquiescence, FLD Gus lies down.

FLD Gus meets queen Gypsy.

Friday, September 24, 2010

FLD Gus's first week of learning...

Two readers indicated (on Wednesday's post of FLD Gus playing with an ice cube) that they "want more," so here you go!  Thanks for checking us out!

FLD Gus is busy learning lots of new things.  Well, I suppose everything is new for him!  We are all adjusting well and having fun.  Enjoy this video of some of the things I am teaching him.  Of course, I left out all the "park" training!

video

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Gray Squirrel and the Giant Weird-Blue-Nut

Fld Gus doesn't notice the squirrel which is dangling upside down by his back feet from our grill just outside the glass door, his gray neck straininng toward the hydrangea bush at the far side of the patio.

The giant weird-blue-nut.
In one fluid motion a few moments before, the creature leapt from the redwood fence into the hanging wire basket, hooked the giant weird-blue-nut in his teeth, and sprang onto the grill shelf, leaving the basket gyrating wildly behind.


FLD Gus catches a glimpse.



The nut was too cumbersome for the squirrel to juggle; what FLD Gus does catch a glimpse of is the giant weird-blue-nut as it bounces across the flag stones.



Andy must have found FLD Mike's long-lost Kong toy when he weeded the garden the other day and dropped it into the basket for safekeeping.

FLD Gus loses interest.  He gets distracted by Gypsy yowling at me from the living room to play.  Meanwhile, the squirrel drops off the grill, scampers over to the giant weird-blue-nut, and wrestles it to the base of the dogwood tree for burying.

The Kong, just before burying.
Wait! I cry, I want that Kong back!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Puppy Fun

FLD Gus keeps me on my toes...and then he falls asleep.  All in a day in the life of a young puppy.  Enjoy  this video of Gus playing with an ice cube...


video
 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: SURVIVING A NEW PUPPY

Last week we handed in a one-year-old, well mannered, attuned-to-our-patterns Future Leader Dog (FLD).

Five days later we picked up an almost-seven-week-old, everything-is-new-and-nothing-is-controlled FLD puppy.

I am in "blank-slate-puppy" shock.  I need to follow my own advice:


TIPS FOR SURVIVING THE ARRIVAL OF A NEW PUPPY


BE PATIENT
  • Remember that this innocent little life is dependent on me for everything:  physical care, mental stimulation, boundaries, and rules.  He knows nothing except what his body dictates.  He doesn't even know his name.  Yet.
  • I, and the puppy, must adjust to a changed living arrangement.  He is missing his mother and the warm pile of his siblings.  I am missing the carefree feelings that come with a trained, mannerly adult dog, in tune with our lifestyle.
  • Every puppy is different.  Yet every FLD puppy needs his puppy-raiser to help him gain the social skills and confidence necessary to grow into an exceptional dog.
Seven-week-old FLD Gus is feisty, vocal, and not the snuggle-bug that FLD Mike was 10 months ago.  When Mike was seven-weeks-old and I carried him outside to "park" in the middle of the night, he nestled his nose into my neck, sweet puffs of puppy-breath sighing in my ear.  When I carry Gus out at 2:00 am, he cranes his head to peer through the darkness.  "Hurry up!" he seems to say to me.

BE CONSISTENT
  • Take the puppy out to "park" every time he wakes up, gets out of his crate, or has a heavy "play" session, and 10-15 minutes after eating or drinking.
  • Feed the puppy at 7:30 am, noon, and 6:00 pm; the same times every day.
  • ALWAYS reverse direction when the puppy pulls against the leash.
  • Have a Nylabone handy to offer as a suitable replacement whenever the puppy tries to chew something he shouldn't.  Say "Chew this!"
  • Never allow play-biting.  Squeal loudly if the puppy nibbles my fingers, or cradle him in a "sit" position between my legs and hold his mouth closed until he relaxes, no matter how long it takes, or give him a smart scruff correction and say, "No!"
  • Never reinforce inappropriate behavior with attention (even negative attention, like yelling, is attention).  Wait until the puppy is quiet to take him out of his crate.  Wait until the puppy is not jumping up to pet him.
  • Reward appropriate behavior with lots of praise!

INTEGRATE TRAINING THROUGHOUT OUR DAILY ACTIVITIES.
Repetition creates ritual.
  • Start teaching the puppy to "sit and wait" at each mealtime.
  • Put the puppy in a "sit" before going up or down any stairs.
  • Don't let the puppy rush ahead of me through doorways.
  • Save a few morsels of food from each meal to use as training treats.  Practice name recognition often.  Give the morsels as a reward.

UTILIZE RESOURCES
  • Read and follow the FLD puppy-manual we received with our new puppy.


While it's amazing how quickly the puppy grows and learns, the first few weeks can seem like it will take forever before the puppy understands some basic rules:
  • Chew this, not this.
  • "Park" outside, not in here.
  • Be quiet with four-on-the-floor before getting attention.
  • "Sit and wait" for meals.
I must go easy on myself, and the puppy!  Gradually, he will "get it."

Today is FLD Gus's third morning living with us.  As I write this, he is curled up at my feet, sometimes with his chin resting on my foot, other times just anchoring his fuzzy back against my instep.

FLD Gus and I are bonding.  I can do this again!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Introducing: FLD GUS!

Accompanied by my husband Andy, my sister Anne, and her three girls (Elaina, Sofia, and Natalie), we picked up our 3rd Future Leader Dog puppy Saturday, September 18, 2010.  

Andy named him "Gus."

I've had horrific luck with cameras lately!  My DSLR got dropped when we returned FLD Mike and is now at the repair shop (I feel naked!).  The videos Sofia took of picking up FLD Gus are lost forever.  I set my "Flip" on the ground at the Cider Mill yesterday when Gus got into the bag of apples, and forgot to pick it up.  Andy graciously drove back when I discovered it missing some miles away, but we couldn't find it and thus far, no one has turned it in.  (Cider mills are notoriously busy this time of year in Michigan!)

Anyway, please welcome FLD Gus to this blog.  I'll let the pictures we took with our "backup" pocket digital tell the story...

My videographer, Sofia (with Natalie), captures the moment.

Andy getting FLD Gus kisses!

Me posing with FLD Gus at the statue in front of the Leader Dog kennel.

Me, FLD Gus, and Anne & Co.

FLD Gus meeting cc'd Rosie.

Natalie and "buddha-belly" FLD Gus.

Elaina instructs FLD Gus to look at the camera!

Sofia makes a "Welcome Cookie"--for us to eat, NOT FLD Gus!

Gypsy thinks, "Not again!"
"If I don't look at him, he isn't here."

"No teeth on the nose, Gus!"

CHEW THIS!

A very tired FLD Gus after a very important day.

And here I go again!

Friday, September 17, 2010

New Puppy Checklist

Tomorrow is the big day...so we're getting things ready to bring home our 3rd Future Leader Dog puppy from Leader Dogs for the Blind.  Here's my checklist:


1.  Adjustable pen (Set up in a corner of the kitchen.)
          CHECK

2.  Small crate (I start with a small one, then move into a larger crate later.)
          CHECK

3.  Food and water dishes (Stainless steel with no-tip design.)
          CHECK

4.  Small buckle collar
          CHECK

5.  Nylabone and Kong chew toys
          CHECK

6.  Cushy bed (Picked up a cheap one from CVS, but Gypsy seems to think it's hers, so had to get a 2nd one.  FLD Mike tore up our old ones!)
          CHECK

7.  Purina ProPlan Puppy Chow
          CHECK

8.  Nature's Miracle (Natural enzyme cleaner.)
          CHECK

9.  A good night's sleep. 
         HA!  (Been working on that this week.)


Well, I think that's it for supplies.  

First thing on the agenda:  introduce the new puppy to Gypsy.  Second thing on the agenda:  POTTY-TRAINING!  (Check out STEP ONE and STEP TWO of my "Training Tips" to see what I'll be doing.)


I am also considering revamping the look of this blog--same location, just a new design.  Any suggestions?  Please leave your comments here or email me!

And stay posted for news on our little one!


      

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Last Letter to FLD Mike's Future Handler

Dear Future Handler:

FLD Mike is now at Leader Dogs for the Blind; his time with us is finished.  It was a joy raising him.  Now he goes on to learn all the important commands and "intelligent disobedience" he must know in order to safely guide you.  It won't be long before you are together.

I thought you might want to know a few cute, humorous, and endearing things about Mike.

He is a thinker. 
Be patient, he will figure things out.  Whenever I told FLD Mike to GET IN to our van, he would pause, consider, check out the passenger side floorboard, sniff around, gather himself, and finally jump in.  When I told FLD Mike to SIT, he would hesitate as if he were spelling it out to himself.  "S.....I.....T.....oh, SIT, that's what she wants me to do!"  Then he would sit.

He is full of energy in the morning.
Until after breakfast, then it was nap time.  In the winter he would curl up on top of the heater vent for a snooze.

He is a snuggler at the end of the day.
Every night FLD Mike would stand and stare at me as I relaxed on the couch until I slid down to the floor.  Then he would try to fold his big lab body on my lap for a snuggle.
  
He loves his mat. 
FLD Mike had fun finding his mat when I moved it to different places.  When I sent him to his mat, he would tilt his head, turn to where the mat was last, run over to where we usually kept his mat, turn away to look somewhere else, and somewhere else again until he found it.  Then he would leap to it, spin around, and drop to a DOWN facing me.  "Here it is!"  We kept his mat next to a wall between our kitchen and living room and frequently found FLD Mike cuddled up on it without being told.

He likes to watch videos of himself.
If you show videos of him on your television, hang on to him until you know he will control himself!  The first time I edited a video on my computer of him playing with my dog, Gypsy, FLD Mike got so excited he jumped right onto my desk!  I worked with him so he would stay settled, but I never played one of his videos on the big screen.

He also likes to watch television.
If your television makes a funny sound when you turn it off, he might jump up from a deep sleep and wander to his crate, ready for bed.  FLD Mike was interested in any show with dogs or other animals, but his favorite programs were "Funniest Home Videos" and "NCIS."  He liked Clint Eastwood and  the "Lord of the Rings" movies.  His favorite commercial was the Travelers Insurance ad with all the wild animals having fun together at an oasis.  If the music started playing when he was in another room or upstairs, he would race into the living room to watch it!  Here is the ad so you know what I'm talking about:



I know that Mike will be a loyal and confident guide for you.  I hope it doesn't take long for the two of you to develop into a strong working team and that you enjoy many years together.

Please give him a pat on the head every now and then for me!

Sincerest regards,
patti

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

No Bones About It: Guide Dogs' Blog: Petco and Natural Balance Team Up in September to ...


Leader Dogs for the Blind also benefits from monies raised through efforts by Petco and Natural Balance during September's National Guide Dog Month.

Click on Petco's on-line store for more information, or shop at your local Petco and make a donation while you are there!

No Bones About It: Guide Dogs' Blog: Petco and Natural Balance Team Up in September to ...: "Jimmy Van Patten, Nicollette Sheridan, Dick Van Patten For the month of September, Natural Balance Pet Foods and Petco are helping to raise ..."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: HOW TO TURN IN YOUR FUTURE LEADER DOG PUPPY

Someone once told me, about the day we puppy-raisers return our year-old puppy back to Leader Dogs for the Blind to begin formal training, "Even after four puppies, it doesn't get any easier."

Here are a few tips for surviving "turn-in day:"
  • Have plenty of Kleenex handy.
  • Bring someone with you for support.
  • Take a picture of you with your puppy by the statue at the door of the kennel.
  • Don't lose your copy of the turn-in contract, it has your puppy's new number on it that you will need when you make your monthly call to Leader Dogs for an update on your puppy's progress through training.
  • Congratulate yourself for accomplishing such a wonderful deed.
  • Call Puppy Development to schedule a pick-up of your next puppy!


What happens, exactly, on return day?


MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2010

Me and FLD Mike at the statue.

My husband, Andy, and I bring FLD Mike to the kennel lobby at Leader Dogs for our 10:00am appointment.  Someone hands us a several-page questionnaire about Mike's behavior over the last few months.  While we answer the questions, a trainer named Mike (amazing coincidence) replaces FLD Mike's collar and tags with a collar sporting a new number.

Andy and I watch Mike-the-dog bounce happily next to Mike-the-trainer on their way outside for an evaluation.  Mike-the-trainer tests Mike-the-dog on his reactions to an approach, noise, traffic, stairs, obedience, and overall confidence.  The ratings for these things are "great," "good," or "fair."  Someone else once told me, "You try telling a puppy-raiser, who is standing there sobbing, that their dog is not very good at stairs."  Diplomacy.

Mike-the-trainer fills out a contract with Mike-the-dog's ratings (all "greats"); he adds a few other comments:  "Great dog, walks nicely just a little fast-paced.  Wasn't phased by anything."  That's my FLD Mike!

Mike grades FLD Mike.

Mike-the-trainer asks me, "Do you want Mike back if he is career-changed?"  He checks off my response, Yes.  I sign the contract and get a copy.


Time to say good-bye.  I pat Mike-the-dog on the head.  Mike-the-trainer turns to take Mike-the-dog back to the kennels.  Mike-the-dog, with a spring still in his step, heels along.  He never looks back.  Dogspeed, I whisper under my breath after him.

FLD Mike, on his way!

That first "someone" was right.  It doesn't get any easier. 


I'm picking up my third Future Leader Dog puppy on Saturday!

Memories of FLD Mike.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Last Day with FLD Mike

FLD Mike on "mat."

FLD Mike, it is your last day with us.  

You are ready to go on with your formal training at Leader Dogs for the Blind to prepare you to live an exceptional life like the exceptional dog that you are.

Thanks for all the fun!


Smelling the flowers.

Yes, Mike, I promise to smell the flowers, too.

FLD Mike wants a last snuggle.

FLD Mike, at rest.

He has left footprints on my heart.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Labor Day Picnic

The work I did with FLD Mike to approach my sister's house in a loose-leash heel is paying off.

cc'd Rosie
Monday, we went to Andy's daughter's house for a Labor Day picnic.  She and her husband have two German Shorthair Pointers, with whom FLD Mike loves to play.  Theirs is a dog friendly home--Anne and the girls brought cc'd Rosie, and another guest brought their three-year-old chocolate lab mix.  (We left Gypsy at home so as to avoid a noisy afternoon.)

As we pulled up, FLD Mike sat at attention; he knew where he was.

Mike.  Wait.  I commanded.  

 I'll see everyone in about a half hour, I joked with Andy when FLD Mike wiggled out of the van at the sight of Rosie.  I instantaneously stepped backwards, then heeled Mike past the house, pausing now and then with a "SIT" or "DOWN" command, anything to draw Mike's focus away from the other dogs.  

FLD Mike moaned and muttered under his breath.  But he sat and laid down when told, and turned tight at my side.  The process of getting to the party didn't take as long as I thought it would.  Mike quivered, but stayed in control all the way back to the house.  

Mike.  Right.  We turned up the drive and FLD Mike surprised me by continuing to keep a loose leash.  He then sat and waited while I opened the gate, unclipped his leash, and said, OK.

I did not have to tell him twice.  YIPPPEEE!!!

Odo, not a working dog!

But the bees were busy.
 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dining Blind

Today's post is my reaction to an article in Sunday's Free Press about "blind dining."  While it certainly has nothing to do with raising Future Leader Dogs, it does have something to do with raising awareness about the blind and visually-impaired.

Perhaps Bon Apetit's restaurant critic Andrew Knowlton is just afraid to experience what eating in any kind of restaurant must be like for a vision impaired person.

In a recent Associate Press article by Karen Matthews, "Blind Dining Concept Heads to New York", Knowlton was quoted as saying "I think it's absurd," when asked his opinion about the concept of dining in a completely dark room.  He continued, "Anytime there's a gimmick involved with eating in a restaurant I have to be a little wary."

I think Knowlton missed the point.

A French investment group, Ethik, committed to "environmental and social innovation," owns successful blind dining establishments in Paris (open in 2004), London (2006), and Moscow (2006), and plans to expand its Dans le Noir? (French for "in the dark") franchise to Barcelna and Manhattan.

The Dans le Noir? eateries follow the example set in 1999 when the Blind-Leicht Foundation opened the restaurant blindekuh (literally, "blind cow," the German name for the children's game "blind man's bluff") in Zurich, Switzerland.  The Blind-Leicht Foundation was started the year before by Stefan Zappa, a visually impaired psychologist, and three other blind people, to develop programs that "foster the integration, dialogue and mutual understanding between the sighted and the blind."  In 2008, more than half of the Foundation's employees were visually impaired.


WHAT IS BLIND DINING?

The tables are turned in a blind dining experience.  Sighted patrons are dependent on visually impaired servers to guide them through an unlit dining room (and to the restroom if needed, which is lighted) to their table where they will eat in complete darkness.

The Dans le Noir? restaurants offer four categories of meal selections:  fish and seafood, vegetarian, meat, and chef's surprise (a combination?).  Afterwards, diners are encouraged to guess what they have eaten.  At the blindekuh (the name is in all lowercase), customers choose from a menu before entering the dining room.

Both restaurant chains are happy to accommodate special dietary needs.  And both profess that "blind dining" not only frees the other senses, it improves interaction between the sighted and the blind or visually impaired.


So, Mr. Knowlton, this "gimmick" of being served by visually impaired wait staff in a pitch black room is more than just a theme concept designed to draw in paying customers hungry for a new fad.

Blind dining is a daring business model, calculated to raise our consciousness, which seems to me to be worth the risk of a less-than-perfect meal.  Given the chance, I look forward to trying it.

Oh, and by the way, blind dining ventures also create jobs for a segment of our population who struggle to find work in a good economy.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Photos Along Eagle Run Trail

We've taken FLD Mike to the cabin, his last trip to northern Michigan before he returns to Leader Dogs for the Blind on Monday. 

After a long hike on the Eagle Run Trails with spectacular views of the Au Sable River, it is a quiet evening in the cabin.

The Eagle Run Trail...
...along the Au Sable, west of Oscoda.
Tall pines.


Inch worm, measuring!  
















Purple flower, not yet open.

Wild flower.
Exploded milkpod.
Some kind of blue berries.

Perfect place for a picnic.
Gypsy lost her stick!
"Oh, woe is me!"

A very tired FLD Mike tonight in the cabin.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: ADVANCED "LEAVE IT"

Witnessed on Labor Day:  11-month-old, intact (unneutered) male black lab walks through Meijer's and ignores miscellaneous stuff on the floor.

What?!  How did this happen?

Puppy-raiser patti remarks, I'm amazed myself.  My arm usually gets a workout keeping FLD Mike's nose off the floor.  I wish I had a nickel for every time I said LEAVE IT to him.  I have been trying to break him from lunging after stuff, but I wasn't seeing any progress.  Until today!

What did patti do?  Find out here...


ADVANCED "LEAVE IT"

Once your Future Leader Dog puppy starts to understand the LEAVE IT command, you can wean him/her off treats, and reward with praise instead.  But when you expand the command into public places with more distractions and temptations (like the grocery store, if you are raising a puppy for Leader Dogs for the Blind, or on a busy downtown street if you are not), you might need to reintroduce a food reward.

Here are some tips on how to work on LEAVE IT in stores, as I finally did with FLD Mike.


  • Bring a helper.
Don't try to do your shopping alone with your puppy, you will need to concentrate on what your puppy is doing.  Either work your puppy in the store without shopping, or bring someone to use your list and push your cart.  My mistake of having shopping as my first objective when I took FLD Mike with me led to frustrations with him trying to pick up every little thing he saw (and a sore forearm).


  • Prepare yourself.
Have a pocket of food morsels, or use a "highly-valued" treat such as Snausages or some other delectable dog snack (break them into small pieces).  Heel your puppy slowly through the store.  Don't worry about staging a temptation; trust me, there will be plenty.  Scout ahead.


  • Give your puppy a chance to decide.
When you spot something you know your puppy will lunge for, keep your leash short enough so he/she cannot reach it, but let your puppy make a decision before saying anything.


  • If your puppy decides to go for it, give the command, LEAVE IT.
Hold the leash so as to prevent him/her from reaching it.  Only say the command ONE TIME!


  • If your puppy ignores it, give a lot of PRAISE! 

  • Reward with a treat.
Hold your puppy from reaching the item until he/she looks at you.  THEN reward with the special treat.  Praise!


  • REPEAT.  REPEAT.  REPEAT.
 
  • Distract your puppy.
After your puppy gets the idea of "leave it" in this setting, try other tactics to divert his/her attention from the floor temptations.  Tap your puppy's side with your finger.  Practice name recognition.  Talk to your puppy--Good boy, Mike!  You are so good to be walking like this without grabbing everything!  And such a nice heel, too!  Use your most expressive voice; this is actually a very good method to keep strangers from dive-bombing your puppy!  When they see your effort and the attention our puppy is giving you, they will not want to interfere with your training.



I followed this process several times in different stores and thought I wasn't making ANY progress.  Until yesterday, when Andy and I took FLD Mike to Meijer's to pick up a watermelon and a few other last-minute snacks for our family picnic.

I was surprised when Mike sniffed at but then ignored miscellaneous scraps of vegetable matter without a word from me.  Later, in the snack aisle, he made a move toward some peanuts on the floor--I said LEAVE IT and he did!  Good boy, Mike!

There is hope for him yet.  Oh, I mean me, hope for me!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day Dog

Thanks to all the workers who make things possible.  May you find rest enough to continue!

Here, a poem to honor all the working (and future working) dogs....


Labor Day Dog

Listen.  I perceive an
angel among us prepared to
boldly guide; a four-legged leader who will
obediently secure safe
routes for his handler.

Dangers and barriers
abridged, all in a
yeomanly manner.


FLD Mike, at the ready.