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Friday, March 11, 2011

Tuesday's Training TIP: A HAPPY DOG

Okay, so it isn't Tuesday...but I started this post on Tuesday, that should count for something!  I've been a bit distracted caring for my mom this week.  She is doing better every day, but recovery from a total hip surgery is a slow process.  So, here's my belated TIP!

FLD Gus is a typical Lab--a wiggly-waggly, tail-wapping food-worshiper with a wickedly-licky tongue (see my niece Elaina's poem "Licky Lab Lickers" from December 6, 2010)--and our twice-a-month trips downstate to our city townhouse never seem to bother unflappable FLD Gus.

Last week was a different story.

I'm sure that Gus picked up on my concern over my mother's hip surgery.  Then, my time spent with her subsequent care caused this budding adolescent to get LESS-than-his-typical exercise and MORE-than-his-typical crate time.  An equation like this is always trouble.

The evening that Andy and I met Jen and Jeff for dinner, FLD Gus shied away from having his blue "Puppy Being Raised for Leader Dogs for the Blind" vest clipped on--he laid down right on the wet macadam of the parking lot!  As we waited for our table he kept turning toward the door; once seated he settled, but when we rose to leave, he jumped up from his "down" and strained against the leash to exit.

My happy-go-lucky Future Leader Dog puppy was showing signs of stress.

I needed to do something.

  1. A Sound Dog
  2. A Friendly Dog
  3. A Happy Dog
The first page of the on-line application to become a puppy-raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind describes three traits that a raiser must groom in their Future Leader Dog puppy.  (To read more, click on this on-line raiser application page.)


Soundness refers to the ability of a dog to tolerate noise and unusual conditions without fear.  Leader Dogs are placed all over the world and in diverse situations; they must be comfortable walking on all types of surfaces (slippery, shiny floors to rough pavement); working next to busy traffic or on country roads, riding in elevators or airplanes; vacuums, umbrellas, grocery carts, or stray cats must not sidetrack them off task.  Exposing a puppy from a very early age to as many different things as possible forms a sound dog.


The job of a Leader Dog is to safely guide its handler.  While the relationship between a Leader Dog and its handler is intimate, "protection" is not in the job description.  Working Leader Dogs need to be easy going and friendly to ALL people (and animals) that they are likely to encounter, but not so overly friendly to get distracted from their duty.  Young puppies must meet people of all ages, shapes, colors, and males and females, in an assortment of settings.  Careful breeding also contributes to this quality.


FLD Gus, even "stressed" is SOUND and FRIENDLY, and seems HAPPY.  But "happy," as described by Leader Dogs is more than just the dictionary definition of "feeling or showing pleasure."  The "happy-dog" trait spelled out on the puppy-raiser application is:
By HAPPY we mean a dog that is content and relaxed wherever it may be.  Some dogs are only happy in their own surroundings.  A Leader dog travels and should be relaxed and content in a strange environment. Frequent walks in new areas and exposure to strangers is required.

It was obvious that FLD Gus was not going to be content while I am caring for my mom and unavailable to him.  The best thing I could do for Gus was to remove him from my stress and into an environment where he could get consistent exercise and "work."

Thank goodness for the "support group" that grew among the puppy-raisers of LD Mike's siblings!  (Read my post from July 23, 2010 about Julia, the girl whose family hosts breeder mom Reece, LD Mike's mom.  Julia has kept our group of "Reece's Peeps" together during the year raising Reece's 11 puppies--and now, beyond!)

FLD Gus spent one overnight (when my mom had her surgery) with Kristina, who raised Molly, LD Mike's sister.  (Molly is currently in training at Leader Dogs.)  On Monday, Margaret, who raised LD Mike's sister Claire (now LD Claire--she was placed with her handler Wednesday!) offered to take FLD Gus while I stay with my mom as she gets on her feet.

Reports from Margaret reinforce my decision that sending FLD Gus with another raiser was the right thing to do.  Gus made himself right at home with her and he had his first close-up experience with her cat!  As she said in an email Wednesday, "He found out about cats yesterday, way too funny.  He was quite cautious going to the 2nd floor this morning, that is where the cat 'terrorized' him yesterday. She didn't do anything to him but he definitely got a warning."

FLD Gus accompanied Margaret to McDonald's, Babies R Us, and Target.  At a beauty shop, Gus was the entertainment for the day as he played with a huge pile of discarded hair.  He had great interactions with kids:  at the beauty shop, the Secretary of State, and a second-grade classroom!

Letting your puppy stay with someone else for an overnight or extended visit is a good way to help your puppy stay HAPPY!

Thank you Margaret for taking Gus for the week--it seems that he is enjoying the "exposure to strangers" in a new environment with you.  I only hope that he stays content when he returns to me!

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