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Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Video

video


FLD Gus wonders if his Hover-Bed Halloween costume might not work so well after all.

In this video, Gus gets himself underneath Gypsy's soft bed and wanders in circles around the living room bumping into things.  Gypsy tries to stay out of the way.  I don't know why, but watching this "hover bed" twirl around the house with an occasional puppy-body-part peeking out from underneath it makes me laugh so hard my eyes tear up and I have to get my inhaler!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Note to Self

It doesn't matter if I'm tired and sore from helping Andy get shipments ready in the Habitat for Humanity MI ReStore warehouse most of the day before; it doesn't matter that I walked the puppy two miles yesterday; it doesn't matter that the wind makes my fall-allergy-sinuses feel like my face is the "target" assistant to a ham-fisted knife-thrower from a second-rate circus.

Taking the puppy outside to "park" and chase around with Gypsy several times today didn't cut it.  Neither did a 20 minute session of obedience command work after he spent three hours in his crate while Andy and I visited my folks after dinner.

A three-month-old black lab puppy needs a walk EVERY DAY!



FLD Gus and I are walking tomorrow...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Halloween Comes Early

Repetition, repetition, repetition.  After four weeks of wrestling his blue "Future Leader Dog" bandana around his neck, FLD Gus is finally resignd that I WILL get it past his open mouth and he WILL wear it whenever we are in public.  Time to go to work, I say.

Gus.  Heel.  FLD Gus heels comfortably at my side on a loose leash across the busy parking lot at Nino Salvaggio'sWe've stopped to pick up a bottle of wine to bring to our friend's house for dinner.  Their daughter and son-in-law are visiting from Oregon and they want to meet FLD Gus.

I've been diligent with our "Leave It" homework from last week's puppy-class at Leader Dogs for the Blind, but I know that the loose chaff strewn about the vegetable bins as we enter will be a challenge.  It's no use for me to tell FLD Gus LEAVE IT every two seconds so I keep the leash short in hope that it keeps his head from grazing.

Gus, come on, let's go! I encourage as he struggles to reach the floor and forgets about heeling.  I bend to tap my calf to gain his attention and notice that he is lapping his tongue as if a glob of peanut butter is stuck to the roof of his mouth.

What have you got now? I ask and reach to sweep his mouth clear.  But Gus turns away and licks more vigorously.

Oh my gosh!  Gus, what's wrong?!

The tip of his tongue is bright red and he's really licking now, frantically.  Andy, I call--he's ahead of us at the wine display and turns with a bottle of "Winter White" in his hand.  "What is it?"

Something is wrong with his tongue!  I pull Gus out of the middle of the aisle, cradle him in a crouch, and try to get a look-see.  My heart is racing; I never heard as much as a "yip."  In the van Gus had been chewing away at a Nylabone that was left over from FLD Mike.  Could he have bitten his tongue by mistake? 

When I grasp Gus's jaw to open it, I catch a glimpse of the underside of his tongue.  Oh man, it looks like he's ripped off a flap of skin!  Gus twists free of my grip and keeps licking.

Now my mind is racing.  I'm thinking an emergency run to the vet at Leader Dogs.  But what can they do for this?  A memory flash--eons ago a youngster I was baby-sitting for fell off the backyard swing, landed on his chin, and bit a hole clear through his tongue.  His doctor said there was nothing to be done except let it heal; back then stitches weren't used on tongues. 

FLD Gus is still licking, but not a peep out of him.  What kind of pain tolerance does this little guy have?!  I get his mouth open again, grab his tongue, and touch the flap of skin.

It comes off on my finger. 

I almost fall on my backside.  "What?" Andy asks.  He's been standing by unable to help.

It's a piece of red onion peel!  The bloodiest red of a red onion peel I have ever seen.*

FLD Gus stops licking and turns back to scour the floor.  My heart slows.  Disaster averted.  Now I must work on getting Gus to "leave it" wherever we are, not just at home or in class!


*note:  FLD Gus did not ingest any part of any onion--he merely picked up a small bit of peel and it stuck on the end of his tongue.  Onions are very poisonous to puppies...please be careful!
 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: OFF

A recent FaceBook post from Teacher's Pet:
Training tip: to get a dog to stop jumping, turn your back to ignore him and reward him (with praise or a treat) when all four paws are on the floor.  Dogs jump for attention so even negative attention (yelling, pushing, scolding) is attention.  Ignore the negative behavior and reward the desired behavior!
(Teacher's Pet is a non-profit group that works with at-risk youth by teaching them to train hard-to-adopt rescue dogs.  The dogs learn basic obedience so they become more adoptable, and the kids learn compassion and gain self-esteem.  Everyone wins!  Teacher's Pet also puts on "Kamp K9,"  two week-long summer camps for dog-lovers in 6th through 9th grades.  Last July FLD Mike and I made presentations at the camps--it was great!)


JUMPING UP ON PEOPLE

Jumping onto people can be a means for your dog to get attention, just at Teacher's Pet's post suggests, or it can mean more.  Sometimes jumping up on people, especially when they enter your home, can be a dog's tactic to take over the space and challenge authority.

Ignoring this unwanted behavior (and subsequently rewarding the desired behavior) is one approach.  Another approach is to "take back" the space and show the dog that he is NOT in charge.  
  • Don't use hands or arms to remove the dog.
  • Say nothing, avoid eye contact, hold your shoulders back and extend your torso while forcing yourself forward; push back against the dog with your entire body until he is off-balance and drops to all fours.
  • When the dog has "four-on-the-floor," turn and ignore.
  • After a few times the dog should avoid the confrontation--praise and reward the dog when he or she does the right thing!


JUMPING ONTO OTHER THINGS

Jumping onto other things might just be a dog trying to get what he wants--the freshly baked cookies cooling on the counter; the deliciously smelly trash; or a soft lying-down place on the living room sofa.

FLD Gus is starting to jump onto things.  When Gypsy gets onto the couch, he tries to jump up after her, but she won't have it.  "GRRRR" she bares her teeth and Gus backs off.  Other times he tries to jump up when Andy and I are relaxing at the end of the day.  

This is when we work on the command:  OFF.

Gypsy, keeping puppies off the couch.

Do not confuse the OFF command with the DOWN  command.  (I'll leave "down" for another Tuesday.)  DOWN means "lie down with your belly on the floor!"  OFF means "get your four feet on the floor!"


WHEN TO USE THE OFF COMMAND

The OFF command is useful in the car when your puppy should be on the floor of the passenger seat and NOT ON the passenger seat; when your puppy jumps up to sniff the counter in the kitchen; when your puppy dirties your guest's pants with his paws upon your guest's arrival (although you should coach your guests to reclaim their space as described above; if you've done this yourself it might not even be an issue with guests); when your puppy stands in his pen (the next step is leaping out); well, you get the idea.

Anytime your puppy tries to get on something he shouldn't, use the OFF command.


3 SIMPLE STEPS TO THE "OFF" COMMAND


1.  STAGE THE JUMPING BEHAVIOR

To begin, stage situations that you know will tempt your puppy to jump up.  For example, sit on the edge of the couch and talk to him, or place a temptation on the edge of the kitchen counter.


2.  SAY "OFF" AS YOU HELP YOUR PUPPY TO GET "OFF"

When your puppy jumps up, do NOT say NO or yell at him.  Simply "help" your dog "off" of you, or the couch, or the counter, and say "OFF" at the same time in a low-key, but assertive voice.


3.  PRAISE WHEN THE DOG HAS 4-0N-THE-FLOOR

Praise your puppy as soon as he or she has all four feet on the floor.  Be careful not to over-praise your puppy to the point that he goes bonkers and starts jumping around!  If you have an excite-able puppy, merely say "Good boy!"  You can even divert his attention and ask for a SIT once he has four feet on the floor.  Praise again, or reward the sit with a treat.


HINTS
  • Teaching the OFF command is very simple if you are CONSISTENT and can ENFORCE the command.
  • If your puppy is exceptionally "jumpy" even after working through the steps above, stage the situation while you have a leash clipped to his collar.  When your puppy jumps up, say OFF and give a quick snap of the leash.
  • Say the OFF command ONE TIME ONLY, or it will become meaningless to your puppy.
  • Reserve your LOUD, commanding voice for later when your dog understands the command and you are not close to your dog to reinforce it.  
  • If you are not close enough, say your puppy's name first to get his attention towards you.  (This implies that you've done some work on NAME RECOGNITION.)

Hey Gus!  Good boy!
FLD Gus, lying calmly ON THE FLOOR.

Monday, October 25, 2010

First ASSISTANCE DOG BLOG CARNIVAL


It's up!  The inaugural ASSISTANCE DOG BLOG CARNIVAL, instigated by blogger Sharon Wachsler.  The theme of this first edition is "The First...."

If you have any interest in assistance dogs, you will enjoy reading posts from handlers working with guide dogs, medical-alert dogs, and other service dogs; trainers who prepare them; and puppy-raisers like me!  (My post from Friday, October 15, "My First Future Leader Dog Puppy," made the list.)

Please show your support and interest and go to Sharon's blog at: "http://aftergadget.wordpress.com."  Read the posts and comment!

The next Assistance Dog Blog Carnival will be in January, hosted by L^2 at:  "Dogs Eye View."   

Friday, October 22, 2010

PUPPIES THREE / PICTURES

As a follow up to yesterday's post, I thought it might be fun to compare pictures of my three Future Leader Dog puppies.  Some of the shots were duplicated with each pup on purpose, others just by accident!  Enjoy...


PUPPIES THREE / PICK-UP DAY
In front of the kennels at Leader Dogs for the Blind. Notice how I have to hold both Gus and Rosie's heads toward the camera.  They wiggled and squiggled to do anything but get their picture taken.  Mike didn't mind at all.

FLD Gus, September 18, 2010.
FLD Mike, November 6, 2009.
FLD Rosie, August 30, 2008.


PUPPIES TWO (so far) / RETURN DAY
Mike and Rosie are proud, and appear ready!

FLD Mike, September 13, 2010.







 


My niece, Sofia, helped me with Rosie--now Rosie (career-changed) lives with her!

FLD Rosie, July 19, 2009.

PUPPIES THREE / IN THE VAN
 
FLD Gus.



FLD Mike.
FLD Rosie, a bit older than the boys.


PUPPIES THREE / WITH MY SHOES
Interesting how Gus and Rosie like my running shoes...

FLD Gus, stretched out even in repose.
FLD Mike, snuggling my "comfy" shoes.
FLD Rosie, ready to head out the back door!


PUPPIES THREE / PAW PRINTS ON MY HEART

FLD Gus paws.
FLD Mike paws.
FLD Rosie paws.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

THREE PUPPY ROOKIE

GUS, MIKE, ROSIE

It is impossible not to compare.  Three puppies.  Among the ranks of veteran puppy-raisers for Leader Dogs for the Blind, I am still a rookie.  Yet...I can't help but compare them.

FLD Gus, my third Future Leader Dog puppy, suffers an unfair disadvantage following so closely after FLD Mike, my second Future Leader Dog puppy.  Sometimes I am taken aback by how much attention Gus needs, and how much time I spend exercising his mind and body just so that he doesn't get into trouble.  Gus's energy reminds me of my first Future Leader Dog puppy, need-to-please-always-ready-to-go Rosie.

FLD Gus is simply a typical puppy, but I've been spoiled by his predecessor, FLD Mike, a laid-back sweetheart who pondered things and like to watch TV.  A long walk relaxed him for two days; he was more often than not content to hang out at my feet and take a snooze.  If I paused while walking through a store, Mike was quick to slide to the floor until I moved on.

FLD Gus is "scary" smart.  On Tuesday, I brought out a "mat" and spent a few minutes showing him that if he goes to the mat, treats will suddenly appear.  On Wednesday, I found Gus frequenting the mat on his own accord; I made sure to have a ready supply of food morsels to toss his way.  Today (Thursday) when I said, Gus, mat, he strutted to the mat, turned, sat, and looked at me as if to say, "Got it!"

FLD Gus is also determined.  To take a walk I must convince him he wants to go, otherwise he balks.  A long walk may tire him out for a few hours, but a short nap refills his tank.  I must always be prepared to give him something to occupy his mind.  Today was his first foray to the Partridge Creek Mall and I walked backwards as much as I walked forwards with him.  Everything was a temptation.  At a mirror in the store, Parisian, Gus found his voice and argued with his reflection to play.  On a positive note, he did successfully alert me to "park" in two different stores!


A NEW GUIDE DOG

The other day I read L^2's blog post, "First vs. Second" on her blog, "Dog's Eye View" about her comparisons between her first guide dog, recently retired Willow (a Leader Dogs for the Blind graduate), and her brand new guide dog, Jack, with whom she is currently training at Guide Dogs of America.

Volunteer puppy-raisers get our puppies by the luck-of-the-draw.  We can request a particular breed and/or sex of puppy, if we're willing to wait until what we want is available.  But the distribution of puppies to raisers is otherwise arbitrary.

Visually impaired handlers get their guide dogs through a complicated matching process.  Life-styles, mobility, paces, and personalities of both handlers and dogs are taken into consideration to maximize the success of the working team.

When I reflect on L^2 as she begins her bond with Jack, I think about the adjustments I make as a puppy raiser when I welcome an unknown puppy into our home.  My term with each Future Leader Dog puppy is short--less than 11 months.  L^2 worked with Willow for almost eight years!  As she admits, it's a difficult transition; it will take time for her and Jack to click into as strong a team as she was with Willow.


BEST WISHES

L^2, FLD Gus and I wish you and Jack a quick bonding and a long, rewarding relationship.

And Gus, I promise to raise you as best I can, and to stop comparing you to FLD Mike.  You are your own puppy--and I like that about you!

FLD Gus says, "What?!"


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Surprising Puppy

YESTERDAY EVENING

FLD Gus ambled into the living room ahead of me and headed directly to Gypsy's bed.  He didn't bother to drag it over to the rug as usual; rather, with a sigh he plunked into it where it sat.

"How did he do?"  Andy asked.  FLD Gus and I were home from our second puppy-class at Leader Dogs for the Blind.

I want to know who switched puppies! I replied.


SURPRISES
I was surprised when a calm FLD Gus, eyes on our instructor, seemed to listen intently as she explained what to expect in that evening's class.  I was surprised when FLD Gus (mostly) ignored an energetic puppy whose raiser sat next to us.  I was surprised when, during our "heeling" exercise, FLD Gus whined a warning that he had to "park"--and I was able to get him outside in time.

While FLD Gus is still a puppy with a long journey of learning ahead, it was obvious from his good behavior in class that he IS learning.

First we practiced skills introduced two weeks ago; all the puppies showed improvement.  FLD Gus heeled with less backwards walking; he looked up at me when I said his name (Name Recognition); he sat when told, at my left side instead of turning his body to face me.

Well, more times than not.

Then we learned the new skills we'll be working on for the next two weeks.  "Down" from the heel position, and "Leave It."  I've been working with FLD Gus on both of these at home already, but we haven't tried "down" from the heel.  As I anticipated, when I introduced this "down" command to Gus in class, he was not compliant.  I stepped on his leash and slipped his front legs out with either hand--and Gus immediately grabbed at my hands with his mouth.  No hard bites (some progress--yes, he's learning bite inhibition!), but I know we're not past this puppy problem.

Something to work on...


TODAY

"Our Gus is back," Andy said in exasperation.  This morning FLD Gus woke up with more than his usual energy.

In self-defense, I took him on a mile and a half walk to the library to return a book and pick another one up.  Gus slid to the floor without a command when I took a seat inside to wait for Andy with the van.

Library patrons and workers strolled by to check out the cute puppy in his blue bandana.  "How old is he?" each of them asked.

Eleven weeks, I answered, at least a half dozen times.

"My, what a well-behaved puppy for so young!"


They didn't witness his wild antics this morning!


(FLD Gus weighed in at 19 pounds at class yesterday!  Yikes--that's six pounds in less than two weeks.  My little guy is growing.)
 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: BITE INHIBITION

After Andy's play session with FLD Gus the other day, I noticed a trail of blood dripping down his forearm.  What happened?  "Oh, Gus got me," he replied.

Two bouts of blood clots caused Andy to forever be on blood-thinners, and it doesn't take much for him to let loose with the red stuff.  Not for his sake alone do I need to "nip" FLD Gus's nipping in the bud! 

Nipping is natural.  Puppies nip to play and to explore all the new and interesting things in their world.  When strangers approach FLD Gus, stick their hands into his mouth, and say (when I gently ask them to take their hand away), "Oh, it's okay, he's just a puppy.  I don't mind," I so often want to scream No, it is NOT okay!

Puppies do NOT "grow out" of biting, they grow "into" biting.  What might seem cute now, when FLD Gus still smells of puppy-breath, will NOT be so cute when he is 65 pounds of exuberant Lab!

Puppies need to learn "bite inhibition."  They need to know when their bite is too strong and how to control themselves.  It is my job as a puppy-raiser to assure that FLD Gus complies!


TEACHING BITE INHIBITION TO A PUPPY

Simulating the behavior of the mother dog and the litter-mate puppies is the best method to get a nippy puppy to pay attention and restrain this unwanted behavior.

When puppies are with their mother and litter-mates, they learn bite inhibition from her and each other.  If you've ever watched a litter of puppies playing and yipping, you've seen this process in action.  They bite and wrestle constantly, and even go after their mother.  When they bite too hard, the bitten puppy (or mother) will give a YIP and back away from the play.

The mother may grab a particularly "bitey" puppy by the scruff of the neck and give him a shake, or even hold him down with her paw until he stops squirming, and then refuse to continue play.  It doesn't take long for the biter to figure out that he has to "play nice."  He may still "mouth," but he learns to control his nipping.  In other words, he learns bite inhibition.



FIVE TIPS TO TEACH BITE INHIBITION


REACTIONS
  • "Scruff" Correction
This technique works well with a very young puppy.  When FLD Gus was seven or eight weeks old, I responded to his nipping much like his mother.  I gave him a "scruff" correction and sternly said NO.   Gus would sit back, stunned, his over-zealous teeth-attack put on "pause."  
 
Grabbing the "scruff."
 
 
 
Here are two pictures of my trainer-friend, Katie, with a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy, demonstrating the proper way to administer a scruff correction.
 
 
 
 
Katie grasps a handful of "neck" and gives a quick, short snap; a swift up and down motion as if slapping a wrist.
 
Katie demos a scruff correction.
 
  • "Holding" Correction
As FLD Gus gained physical coordination, the scruff correction became less effective.  Because nipping usually accompanies excitement, "holding" Gus until he settles not only addresses his mouthy-ness, it helps to calm him down.  
 
This picture of Katie shows the correct holding position.  She "contains" the puppy between her knees; one hand cradles the chest and body while the other hand holds the mouth closed.  Hold the puppy like this until he quits squirming and his eyes stop darting around.  Be patient; sometimes this may take more than one minute!  Often Gus will let out a big SIGH--that's when I know I can release him.
 
Katie demos the proper "hold" correction.
 
  • "OUCH!"
When FLD Gus puts his teeth on me, I respond with a loud OUCH just like his mother or litter-mates would do.  If he doesn't back off, I remove myself from however I've been interacting with him, also in the same manner of his puppy-family.


REDIRECTION
  • Redirect the puppy's nipping behavior.  When FLD Gus comes at me with his mouth in land-shark openness, I have a Nylabone, Kong, or other appropriate toy to "shove" into his mouth.  Chew THIS I say, and continue play with the toy, not my hands, arms, or clothing.

REMOVAL
  • Stop playing or petting the puppy and remove yourself from interaction with the puppy.  When someone asks to pet FLD Gus, I often allow petting if he sits calmly.  But first I say, Okay, but please take your hand away if he tries to put his mouth on you, or if he gets up from his sit.  I also advise that they pet Gus's side or back to avoid his mouth.  If Gus cannot control himself, I tell the person, You can see that he isn't behaving, so it's best if you don't pet him right now.  Thanks for asking--that's the absolute right thing for you to do!
 
 
KEY TO SUCCESS
 
The key to successfully teaching a puppy bite inhibition is CONSISTENCY.  The repercussions listed above need to happen to FLD Gus EVERY TIME he uses his mouth inappropriately.
 
We've had Gus just over four weeks now, and he IS improving, especially with me.  This morning, I was able to pet and "snuggle" with him without ANY teeth interference!  Progress.
 
 

Monday, October 18, 2010

BREAKTHROUGH

FLD Gus, snoozing.
I'm testing FLD Gus this week.  When he wakes up from a nap, or slops a huge drink, or plops down after a round of play, I don't immediately scoop him up to rush him out to "park."

I wait.  And I observe.

If I keep a close watch there are times when he heads toward the door, or gives a little whine, and I run him outside.  FLD Gus can hold himself in his crate.  He knows that "park" does not mean he can relieve himself in the pen.

But I don't trust him.

I look for a sign that he understands that he cannot relieve himself in the kitchen, or the living room, or upstairs.


The Breakthrough
 
I sit at the kitchen table, reading my Women's Studies assignment for the week.  FLD Gus drags Gypsy's square cushy-dog-bed from the corner over to the rug in the middle of the living room.  He's been suckling it since we brought him home from Leader Dogs for the Blind.  He grabs a corner, rolls over onto his back, and flips the bed over to cover himself.

I glance up from my studies to see the upside-down bed (with a wiggly black-lab-tail sticking out) float in circles around the room, careening off the couch, the rocking chair, the front door, and back against the loveseat.  At the sound of my giggling, the bed settles.  Suddenly, a hump appears and with a snort the bed flips back and FLD Gus bounds away after a wayward Kong.  I turn my attention back to reading.

"Mmmmmmmm."  I don't notice the faint whine at my feet at first, but some inner sense causes me to glance down.  FLD Gus is in a perky sit.  When he realizes I'm looking at him, he waddles to the front door.  Facing it, he peeks over his should at me.

Do you have to go out? I ask.  He turns his head to the door.  Good boy Gus!  I clip on his leash and take him out to park.

FLD Gus parks in his sprinter's stance and pees a river.  Good park, Gus!  He looks up at me with relief.

I'm ecstatic.  It's the first time he clearly indicated his need to "park," and held on to tell me instead of merely taking a stance right where he was!


LATER
 
FLD Gus follows me upstairs.  As I stand in the doorway of Andy's home office to tell him the good news, Gus squeezes in between my feet.

"That's great," Andy says from where he's working at his desk.

GUS!!  NOOOO!!!! I scream.  Andy jumps.  FLD Gus looks back; he's in his sprinter's stance with a growing puddle of pee beneath him.  NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

I snatch him up and race down the stairs.  Luckily I left his leash hanging on the chair by the door.  Outside we go and Gus finishes his park.

Generalization.  Puppies don't.  This was the very first time FLD Gus went into Andy's room.

Figures.  He went!

Andy holding the culprit, FLD Gus.

Friday, October 15, 2010

My FIRST...Future Leader Dog Puppy

Today's post is in response to Sharon Wachlser's first ASSISTANCE DOG BLOG CARNIVAL.  A blog carnival is something like a magazine, in that there is a topic (Assistance Dogs), it is published periodically (this one will be quarterly), and each "issue" has a particular theme.  The blog carnival is "hosted" by a blogger (this time by Sharon Wachlser's blog "After/Gadget") who publishes links to posts submitted by other bloggers on the quarterly theme.
The theme for this fist edition is "The first..." and must relate to the "topic of guide, hearing, or service dogs."  Here is my submission!


My First...Future Leader Dog Puppy 


Two weeks ago, the trainer at our first puppy-class at Leader Dogs for the Blind talked to our group about puppy-raising.  "I know you all want to raise the very best puppy ever to return to Leader Dogs for training."

I smiled.  Heads nodded around me.

The trainer went on to reassure us that the staff and volunteers at Leader Dogs would do everything they could to help us in raising our charges.  But sometimes, well, according to the statistics, at least half of the time these puppies will be "career-changed" for reasons that might not have anything to do with how the puppy was raised.

The puppy might not pass strict physical testing.  A physical issue that may not cause any problems for years to come has the potential to shorten the working life of a Leader Dog.  It is a huge investment to bring a puppy through training to become a working Leader Dog, from the time, effort, and expense of the families who host breeding stock, the puppy-raisers, and the trainers and staff at Leader Dogs, to the handlers who hope to bond and work as a team with their Leader Dogs for as long as possible.

A puppy might not be able to control its inherent drive to chase small animals, or might not be able to resist the attention of humans.  These pups can get too stressed to concentrate on working if they are forced to override these instincts.  Dogs who cannot get past these compulsions on their own have the potential to put their handlers in harm's way, and this cannot be tolerated.


I am currently raising my third puppy for Leader Dogs, FLD Gus.  My second puppy, FLD Mike, is currently in training at Leader Dogs for the Blind.  I approached the raising of my first Future Leader Dog, a black Labrador named Rosie, with that same intent the trainer referred to above.

As an adult, I raised three dogs of my own.  I trained dogs professionally since 2004 and was fortunate to study dog-training under my friend Katie, a graduate from the National K-9 Learning Center.  I assisted Katie in developing an Obedience training program for the trainers at Invisible Fence.

I was confident.

When I brought FLD Rosie home from Leader Dogs, I was eager to apply my "dog knowledge" to raising her into the BEST puppy Leader Dogs ever saw.  I was diligent, consistent, and determined.  Rosie was an intelligent and enthusiastic puppy.

FLD Rosie before the 2008 Rochester Christmas parade.

FLD Rosie returned to Leader Dogs in July of 2009 to begin her formal training.  She passed her physicals and progressed through Leader Dogs' four phases.  In January of 2010, Rosie was ready to be paired with a handler, but according to Leader Dogs, she had a "fast pace" and a good match could not be found.  She went back to the kennels, held over for the next month's group.

Again, no match in February.  Back into "holdover" status.

In March--no match.

By the end of March, dogs and people would overly distract Rosie.  When she started relieving herself while in harness, she was "career-changed." 

As any puppy-raiser who has gotten that dreaded call from Leader Dogs can tell you, my heart sank in disappointment.  My eleven months working with Rosie, and her subsequent nine months at Leader Dogs seemed in vain.  I was frustrated with the process; I wanted Rosie to have another chance.  I felt that she was a victim of circumstances.  Could more have been done to help her to excel as a working Leader Dog?

I thought back to what the man who gave me my very first personal puppy told me when I was debating whether or not to accept the responsibility of a dog.  "They become a mirror of your mind."

He is correct, in a sense.

My disciplined and active approach to Rosie's raising channeled her inherent energy and fervor.  She needed copious amounts of exercise; I provided.  She needed something to do with her mind; I challenged her daily.  I thought she had potential.

I imagined she did wonderfully with the training she received at Leader Dogs; she did make it through the four phases after all.  The delay in finding an appropriate match for Rosie was, perhaps, in everyone's best interest.  A strong hand was necessary to keep her on task.  Without a strong hand, her "true" nature became exposed.


Dogs have funny ways of communicating.  Was Rosie's distracted behavior her way of telling the staff at Leader Dogs that she didn't want the job?  Was she frustrated because no one understood her reticence, so took to "parking" in harness to get attention?

Things turned out the way they should have turned out.  Rosie is now an energetic, but happy pet to my sister and her three young girls.

While I still strive to do the best job I can, I am more relaxed with my expectations.  I promise to provide love, care, and direction to FLD Gus until he is one years old.  If he passes his physicals, it is up to him to decide if he's up to living an exceptional life as a working Leader Dog.

Future Leader Dog GUS
 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dynamite Soccer

Wednesday evening, October 13, 2010

FLD Gus is the unofficial mascot of my niece Natalie's U10 (under 10 years-of-age) soccer team, the Cheeto Crunchers, but this is the first game he is attending of Elaina's U14 team.  Team Dynamite is undefeated.  I hope our attendance tonight doesn't jinx them!

FLD Gus "parks" and I crouch to tie on his "Future Leader Dog" bandana so he can get to work.  His neck is almost thick enough to not have to loop the ends of the bandana twice around his neck.  Almost, but not quite, and I struggle to knot the ends.

We can't see the field from the parking lot, but it is just beyond the park building and a stand of fir trees.  I'm glad we have about 20 minutes before the whistle blows to start the game.  FLD Gus is eager to follow Elaina as she hustles to join the Dynamites and I'm doing more backwards walking than forwards walking!

Elaina says, "I like playing in the rain more than in the sun."  Good thing.  The sky darkens and the light rain turns steady as the Dynamite girls, in vivid orange jerseys, line up against the screaming-yellow jerseys of their competition.  Dynamite supporters huddle beneath the team's pop-up shelter or under umbrellas along the sidelines.

Andy and I each have an umbrella, but FLD Gus isn't sure about the rain.  He sits as close as he can to my leg, but he's still getting wet.

"Let's go under the tent," Andy suggests, and he donates his umbrella to a Dynamite-mom.  FLD Gus is much happier here; he busies himself sniffing and chewing the grass.  I busy myself keeping my fingers out of the way as I try to get him to chew his Nylabone instead.  Meanwhile, the Dynamites find themselves losing 2-0.  "I detected a bit of over-confidence from Elaina on the drive over here," Andy says.

At halftime, I open my umbrella and move FLD Gus out of the protection of the pop-up to give the Dynamites room with their coach, but he makes them stand in the rain for his "pep-talk."  As I turn to return to the shelter, Gus suddenly discovers the heavy raindrops dripping from my umbrella.  Looking up, he blinks and snaps with clicking-clacking teeth to catch them.

The Dynamites explode the second half of the game, dominating with four unanswered goals.  The rain ends just as the game ends.  Sodden orange-clad soccer-girls race by our spectator line for slippery high-fives--still undefeated!

FLD Gus is a bit hit with the team, as usual.  "Can we pet your puppy?"  They always ask, informed.  Sometimes I worry that the girls' coaches will forbid our presence at games.  A black, fuzzy puppy wrapped in a blue bandana can be a bit of a distraction!

FLD Gus in his "Future Leader Dog" bandana, by pumpkins!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

17 1/4 POUNDS!

FLD Gus, with an attitude!
FLD Gus, my puppy-with-an-attitude, was a charmer at the vet today.  It was time for his second round of puppy shots and I took him to my vet because I delayed too long in scheduling an appointment at  the vet clinic at Leader Dogs for the Blind.

Gus pranced right in, no hesitations.  Weighed in at 17 and 1/4 pounds!  Yikes!  He tolerated his shots and while we waited for the results from his stool sample (negative), he fell fast asleep on the examination table.  

"You've got a great puppy," Dr. Hamilton said.  "Nice shiny fur, calm and relaxed demeanor.  And handsome, too."

I'm not sure what got into FLD Gus today.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: TRAVELING WITH YOUR PUPPY

Part of my role as puppy-raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind is exposing FLD Gus to as many different experiences as possible.  During his "critical" phase before 16-weeks of age, Gus must learn to accept and be comfortable with strangers, new places, and "scary" things.  (See my "training tip" on SOCIALIZATION from July 13, 2010.)

Because he accompanies me almost everywhere I go, Gus is required to travel easily in vehicles.  Leader Dogs for the Blind advises that we train our puppies to sit on the passenger side floorboard when we are in the car, in the same manner as do graduate Leader Dogs with their handlers.

On a recent 180-mile drive to northern Michigan, FLD Gus did just that (click here to read my post about that trip).  Well, at barely eight-weeks old, he mostly slept when he wasn't getting into mischief!  To make things more comfortable for him (and to entice him to sleep), I put his soft bed at my feet.

For the most part, the bed worked to help Gus (and us) survive his first long car trip, but a few other things we did contributed to our success.
  • We stopped every hour for a "park" break and a little exercise.
  • I limited his water intake.
  • He had a variety of toys to stave off boredom, including a Kong filled with a bit of peanut butter.
On our most recent trip north, I transitioned FLD Gus to the large crate, using it in the van to house him with his bed and toys.  This arrangement gave Gus more room to play or sleep.  He did great!

FLD Gus relaxing in the big crate, riding in the van.


FIVE TIPS FOR TRAVELING WITH A YOUNG PUPPY

1.  DEPARTURE
  • Leave after your puppy eats and "parks."
  • Before loading your puppy in the car, take a short walk with a few obedience commands to stimulate his mind--this will tire him out so he is more likely to "nap."
  • Save a portion of his meal to use as "treats" during your journey.
2.  IN ROUTE
  • Plan extra travel time to allow "park" and exercise breaks.
  • Take another short walk with some obedience exercises (use commands your puppy both knows and is learning).
  • Use the held-back food as rewards.
3.  ARRANGEMENT
  • During a short drive, practice with your puppy at your feet on the passenger side.
  • Keep his leash on so you can control him when he jumps up.  I put my foot on Gus's leash so he has enough slack to sit and move around, but when he jumps he "corrects" himself.
  • Position your feet on either side of his space so he cannot sneak over to the driver's side, or try to squeeze by on the door side. 
  • FLD Gus at my feet in the van
  • On a multiple hour drive, consider using a crate.  This arrangement proved to be more relaxing for all of us!

4.  ARRIVAL
  • Plan for extra playtime upon arrival to your destination to burn off excess energy.  At the cabin, I threw a stick for Gypsy and let FLD Gus chase her around.
  • Introduce your puppy to the new surroundings on leash, especially if he is still learning "park" control.  Do not assume that just because your puppy alerts you to "park" when he is at home that he will in the new place.
  • Expect an accident or two.  Remember to bring appropriate cleanup materials!  (Remember Nature's Miracle?)
  • Keep close watch on your puppy.
  • Try to "puppy proof" the new place:  move exposed cords, remove loose rugs he might be tempted to chew, and close off peripheral rooms.
  • Maintain a similar mealtime, bedtime, and playtime schedule during your stay.  I brought our adjustable pen and set it up in the cabin with Gus's bed and toys.  He readily adapted to the new environment.
  • Continue to work on commands.  This is an excellent opportunity to help your puppy "generalize" and learn to respond to your commands no matter what the setting or distraction!

5.  YOUR ATTITUDE
  • Don't be anxious about your puppy's ability to ride in the car.
  • Your puppy will soon love to go wherever you take him...especially if you start when he is young!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Poetry: Haiku Buddha-Belly Puppy

Natalie and FLD Gus, first day, 11 lbs.

"two pounds in two weeks"

she'd best pick him up
every day--Buddha-belly
puppy grows too fast


Sofia watches Natalie try to hang on to FLD Gus two weeks later; 13 lbs.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Skateboarding Gus

FLD Gus checks out my nieces' skateboard...

"Ooookaaaay...I think I have it!"

"YAHOOO!!!!"

Thursday, October 7, 2010

FLD Gus Goes to the Academy

Who wants to be a puppy-raiser when they grow up?  I ask Mrs. Smith's third-grade class.
FLD Gus in class.

A forest of hands reach for the sky.  "I do!  I do!"  It is unanimous.  

FLD Gus turns out to be an outstanding ambassador for Leader Dogs for the Blind.



EARLIER

FLD Gus and I arrive at Warren's Great Oaks Academy about 20 minutes early.  Heeling a nine-week-old puppy on a loose-leash requires a bit of backwards walking, so entering a building is never a straightforward proposition.

The office personnel "awe" and coo over Gus in his "Future Leader Dog" bandana as we check in.  "Mrs. Smith's classroom is on the second floor.  Go through those doors, turn left to take the stairs, and her room is right at the top."  Great, I think to myself, more practice on stairs.

Gus.  Sit,  I say.  Gus sits and looks up at me.  Good boy!  Gus. Heel.  I take the first step, and Gus navigates with me.  He stays next to me almost all the way up the first flight--not too fast and not too slow.  With a few steps to go, Gus slips on the shiny, slippery surface and stops.  He won't go any further.  I crouch down and tap my fingers on the step ahead, coaxing him to continue.  His eyes dart to my fingers and back to me as if he's trying to decide what to do.  Suddenly he leaps forward.  I use the leash to prevent his attack on the last steps and he settles back into a nice heel.  The second flight poses no problem.

A third-grade boy rushes out of the door at the top, takes one look at FLD Gus, sticks his head back into the classroom to announce, "They're here!"  I hear a clamor beyond him.  Mrs. Smith pokes her head around the door and asks us to wait down the hall until the other two classes of third-graders come up to stairs to join her class.

The hallway is full of students and staff and everyone is curious about the 13.5-pound puppy at the end of my leash.  FLD Gus is curious, too, but content to sit close and watch.  I take the opportunity to work on Name Recognition.  Gus's lunch is in a treat-bag on my belt and he amazes his audience by looking up at me every time I say Gus.

Finally, FLD Gus and I enter Mrs. Smith's classroom.  The "awwwwwwes" from all the children wash over us.  These third-graders have been reading "Rugby and Rosie" so I have a marvelous place to  begin my talk. 

My name is patti, and I am a volunteer puppy-raiser with Leader Dogs for the Blind.  This little guy is Future Leader Dog Gus.  He is my third puppy.  Can you believe that my first puppy's name is Rosie?! 

I show pictures of Rosie, Mike, and Gus and answer many insightful questions.  These kids want to know EVERYTHING about Leader Dogs:  what breeds do we use, what happens when I bring the puppy back to Leader Dogs, what do I have to teach Gus, what about taking him on a plane or train?

One little girl asks how our puppies feel when we bring them back to Leader Dogs, "Don't they miss you?"  I explain how it doesn't take long for the puppy to adjust with the help of the many loving people at Leader Dogs.  It is much harder on us puppy-raisers than it is on the puppies, I answer.  But we also understand how what we do helps someone else.  And besides, we can always get a new puppy to raise!

If you haven't read the book, "Rugby and Rosie," I recommend that you do.  Much of the story is focused on the little boy who helps to raise the yellow lab, Rosie, and how sad he is when he has to say good-bye.

FLD Gus is being as patient as a young pup can be during all of this.  I say Gus, and reward him when he looks at me; I explain Name Recognition to the class and its importance when Gus becomes a Leader Dog.  I demonstrate how well he can SIT and how I am teaching him to lie DOWN.  I illustrate SETTLE when I put my foot on his leash so he cannot jump up.  All of this is excellent training for Gus in a new environment with distractions.

About a half-hour into my presentation, FLD Gus gets fidgety and whines.  I entice him with a Nylabone when he starts to chew on the leash, but his whines turn into escalating "yips."  I think, he has to "park."  (It is always fun to explain "park," especially when my puppy has to go!)  Mrs. Smith says, "Ok, just ONE more question," but the third-graders aren't too happy about ending our meeting.   

Let me take him out.  I'll carry him so I can get back quickly.  Can everyone be quiet while I take Gus to park?  I ask the class.  A resounding "YES!"

FLD Gus parks successfully, our presentation continues, and at the end, the students file past Gus for a pet.  I try a new technique that we learned at puppy-class on Tuesday.  I hold a peanut-butter-loaded Kong and when Gus licks it instead of trying to puppy-nip petting hands, I reward him with his food.  My scheme works great--no hands get nipped!


Thank you, Mrs. Smith, and the third-grade classes at Great Oaks Academy!  FLD Gus and I had a great time. 
 
FLD Gus and I, surrounded by Mrs. Smith's third-grade class.