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Monday, January 31, 2011

FLD Gus is a WINNER!

Philanthropist and filmmaker Charles Annenberg Weingarten founded the multimedia organization "explore" to highlight individuals and non-profits all over the world (via photography and documentary films) who selflessly bring about social change.  His Annenberg foundation has granted over $15 million dollars to "more than 100 non-profit organizations worldwide."

"Dog Bless You" is a FaceBook channel to Weigarten's explore and features his dog Lucky (explore's official canine) in travels around the world.  Dog Bless You posts many interesting stories about dogs that make a difference, and welcomes stories by dog-loving fans.

This past December, Dog Bless You held a "25/25/25 Challenge Grant"--get 25,000 FaceBook fans by December 25 and Guide Dogs of America would get a $25,000 grant. Dog Bless You reached their fan goal, and explore upped their grant to $50,000! (Read about the Challenge on Guide Dogs of American's website:


Earlier this month, Dog Bless You opened "The Winter Woofy Awards" photo contest.  Fans could submit photographs of their dogs enjoying anything winter.  The top "like-getter" was supposed to be the winner, but Dog Bless You said that there were too many "amazing" shots, so they picked the top ten!

FLD Gus is one of the ten winners!

Snowboarding FLD Gus--our winning photograph!

On Friday we received a customized Dog Bless You coffee mug with his winning picture--FLD Gus snowboarding in Green Bay, Wisconsin (see my post of December 29, 2010 for a story about "Snowboarding Gus").

Gus and his winning coffee mug.

FLD Gus wonders what the fuss is about.

Thank you, Dog Bless You, for this fun and memorable gift.  As you can see, FLD Gus really enjoys it, but wonders what all the fuss is about!

And thanks to all of Gus's FANS who voted for him!

"What's that?  Is something in there?"

FLD Gus, checking out his new winning mug!

To read an interesting interview with founder Charlie Annenberg Weingarten, go to explore's website:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Puppy Update IV

Leader Dogs for the Blind is instituting process improvements in all areas of its operations.  Change is good, especially when it advances the great things this organization is already doing!

This week I called the phone number listed on the contract I received from Leader Dogs when I returned FLD Mike for his advanced training to get an update on Mike's progress.  This number dialed me into the kennel.  I identified myself and asked how Mike (dog # 12588) is doing.  The kennel transferred me to someone else.  The person I ended up talking to works in "Dog Care" and had lots of nice things to say about Mike, but couldn't tell me much more than "He's been held back and is in Phase 2."

What a surprise!

Earlier this month I received news that Mike just started Phase 4 (see my post from January 5, 2011).  As any puppy-raiser can tell you, it is a blow to learn that YOUR puppy--your special, sweet, smart, amazing, he's-going-to-be-the-very-best-Leader-Dog-EVER puppy--is doing anything BUT advancing to graduation.

I emailed my puppy-counselor in frustration.  I wanted to know more.


Part of Leader Dogs' process improvement plan involves the establishment of one main source for puppy-raisers to get information on puppies-in-training.  This will go a long way to preventing the frustration I felt by not getting specific details about Mike's development.

Another plan component is instituting standards (reachable goals with action plans if they are not attained) across the board.  Puppies will be evaluated periodically during their time with raisers, when they return to Leader Dogs on their one-year anniversary, and during each Phase of training until they are ready to become a working guide-dog.

Implementing such an extensive plan takes time, and is best accomplished in stages.  Leader Dogs is rolling out changes "in-house" with paid staff before expanding to volunteer activities.

As with all change, there is bound to be "glitches" that will need fine-tuning.  I am confident that Leader Dogs for the Blind will accomplish their mission to "enhance the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired" with the vision to "become the most innovative and forward thinking organization in the profession."

Why do I believe they (we) will succeed?

Leader Dogs for the Blind will succeed because of their dedication to involve employees and volunteers in the process, over 70 years of experience to draw on, and the passion possessed by everyone in the organization to make a difference.

In the future, I will contact "Puppy Development" for news about Mike (and FLD Gus when it is his turn), as I subsequently did this week after communicating with my puppy-counselor.


Mike did indeed begin Phase 4 at the beginning of January, but before a dog can "graduate" and be placed with a person, he or she must pass a "class-ready" standard.  Unfortunately, Mike couldn not pass this standard.  While he was doing very well, he developed "out of character barking."  Fortunately, the new standards allow for action plans as a way to address a problem issue.

What this means for Mike is that he avoids a career-change, at least for now.  Leader Dog trainers want to understand if his barking is "becoming a pattern or just a small set back." 

Mike is now back in Phase 2 with a calm, easy group of other dogs under the direction of an experienced team supervisor.

Our paws are still crossed for you, Mike!

Me and FLD Mike when he returned to Leader Dogs.
And a hearty THANK YOU to Nance, my puppy-counselor, and Bev in Puppy Development for filling me in on Mike and what I need to do to get detailed updates in the future.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Poetry: Haiku Flying Puppy

FLD Gus comes flying when called!

"flying puppy"

I merely called "come"
little black Lab wheeled and launched
transformed super-pup!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A TROMP IN THE WOODS (patti's "patch")

Thirteen acres of hardwood forest, cloaked in powdery snow.  A marvelous place to tromp with curious dogs...

Snow-pocket bed.
Who made a bed here?  And here?  What creature wrestled these leaves from under the snow?  I imagine warm, furry bodies curled tight, protected from wind in the the snow-pocket beds.

Are these beds evidence of local coyotes?

The indentations remind me of Gypsy's contortions when she rustles up her doggie-bed before lying down at the end of the day.  She snuffs and snorts and digs furiously with all four paws to align things just so.  She'll go on like this for several minutes until, almost out of breath, she stops, looks up at us with an air of frustration, circles, and plops down with a huge sigh.

Gus, sniffing the beds.
Some areas look like there was a herd, or else one or two who, like Gypsy, couldn't get comfy in one spot so tried another.  And another.  And another.  Before finally moving on to another likely site.

Further down the trail I make out a clear track.  NOT coyote--definitely DEER.

DEER tracks.

Snow-nosed Gypsy.
I love how snow enables me to witness what my dogs are tracking, their noses brushing up white fluff.  Gypsy tears off to search beneath blanketed pines, FLD Gus hard on her tail.  I follow.  

Wild rabbit scat?

They discover some scat, most likely rabbit, but it is lighter in color and bigger than the city-rabbit scat prevalent around our old townhouse.

The Deer-Blind Bar.

I squeeze inside an old, deserted deer blind.  Gypsy and Gus look in like they are sidled up to a northern bar for a shot and a beer after the hunt.   

"You buying?"  Gypsy seems to say to Gus.  

Gypsy-doodle at the Deer-Blind Bar.

 "I'm not old enough!" Gus complains.

FLD Gus sidles up.

Come on dogs, it's time for dinner, I say, heading home.  And I AM buying.

The dogs come home.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tuesday's Training TIP: NAILS!!!


As soon as I reach for the dog-nail clippers, Gypsy slyly slinks from sight.  Her negative reaction is due to my not trimming her nails consistently.

Years ago, when Gypsy was only a couple of months old, I tried to make it a weekly practice to cuddle her while I snipped her sharp puppy nails.  Inevitably I cut a nail too short; she yipped and pulled her paw away.  No doubt I overreacted myself trying to staunch the bleeding, and that nail-cutting session was over.

Guess what happened the very next time I tried to clip her nails?

You got it--the memory of that bleeding nail burned in her brain.  The fight was on.  As Gypsy grew, Andy helped hold her still while I did the dastardly deed.  And then the screaming began.  I worried that neighbors might call Animal Control on me for torturing my dog!

During one visit to the Vet, I asked Dr. Hamilton to cut her nails.  Two of his staff and I secured Gypsy while he did the job.  (He cut at least one nail too short also.)  Gypsy screeched bloody murder!  I hoped we didn't scare anyone in the waiting room.

I asked, What can I do to deal with this?

Dr. Hamilton replied, "Play with her feet as often as you can so she gets desensitized, and gradually re-introduce the clipper."

Okay.  So.  I played with Gypsy's feet.  (*See Note.)

Eventually I was able to cut her front paw nails without a fight (and no screaming), but she trembled and moaned anxiously.  I cut her rear paw nails another time.  I tried clipping immediately before heading out for a run, as a way to "reward" Gypsy, and to get her mind off of it if I cut a quick.  Helping Gypsy tolerate nail trimming was, and continues to be, a lot of effort.  Is it any wonder that I am not consistent?


As a volunteer puppy-raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind, I am expected to touch my puppies all over, getting them used to a "Handler's Exam."  (See my post from June 1, 2010 for more information.)  And I do; however, nail cutting seems to be my bane.

With every puppy I raise, I vow to maintain a consistent nail-cutting routine, but, after the first time nicking a quick, this routine always becomes more difficult.  Puppies remember, and struggle in avoidance.

I used a small human-nail clipper on FLD Gus when we first brought him home.  He didn't mind that at all.  It's impossible to see the quick through those dark black Lab nails, so I just cut the very tip.  When Gus got older, I used the dog nail-clipper.  One miss-clip later and FLD Gus was done with nail cutting!

Luckily, FLD Gus's nails stay short from walking on pavement and romping around, so I haven't had to trim them often.  Still, I've begun the process of desensitizing him.  Here's how:

  • Prevention is best. Touch your puppy's paws frequently with lots of praise!  Use a nail-clipper soon, and on a regular basis.
  • If you cut the quick, have cornstarch or a bar of soap handy to staunch the bleeding.  Stay calm and don't end your session with that bad clip!  Distract your puppy with a treat in your hand, or a special toy, and keep cutting.  You might need assistance.
  • Continue to touch and massage your puppy's paws whenever you can, not just when you trim the nails.
  • If, like FLD Gus, your puppy tries to squirm his or her paw away, hold the paw calmly and be ready with a treat when he or she relaxes.  Praise!
  • Gradually re-introduce the nail-clipper, perhaps cut only one nail in a session, increasing the number as your puppy accepts the routine.

FLD Gus is starting to let me touch his front paws; he has less of an issue with his rear paws.  (I must have snipped his front quick!)  I wonder how much trouble Leader Dogs for the Blind has with clipping the nails of all the dogs brought back for training.

(*Note:  I even tried the PediPaws-gizmo from the pet store.  I followed the directions to desensitize Gypsy and my then-current-puppy, FLD Mike to it, but the sandpaper head and battery-powered motor were not strong enough to take off much of the thick nails of my big dogs.  I suspect a groomer's Dremel-tool works much better.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Packing Our "Stuff"

We were less than a week away to loading our "stuff" (thanks, George Carlin!) into the biggest U-Haul truck we could rent and hauling it all North to our new digs.  Andy worried that we wouldn't have things ready and asked if our nieces could help.

"Two girls want to help," my sister Anne said when I called.  "I'll bring them right over."

While Andy worked on dismantling his basement wood-working shop, the girls helped me pack books and coffee mugs.  (That was one smart thing we did, using SMALL boxes for books!)  Natalie took charge of wrapping mugs in newspaper; Sofia emptied the bookshelves that Andy had custom-built in our tiny living room.

I had trouble keeping up with the two of them--my job was to tape the boxes shut, label them, and stack them up for moving.  Less than an hour and a half later, our job was almost done.

Packing can't be all work.  Nat and Sofia took particular interest in a glass vase full of wine corks I saved from our kitchen-bridge dinner parties.  "Can we see those?" one of them asked me.  Sure.  We all plopped down at the kitchen table for a rest.

Nat & Sofia's cork log-pile.
"Wow, look at all of these.  Let's take them out."  Small hands regardless, Nat and Sofia still couldn't grab more than two or three corks at a time to get past the narrow mouth of the vase.  I poured us water (Nat preferred Grape Juice) and watched in amusement as they began a systematic sorting, first by color, then by brand-names etched on the corks.  Before long, pyramid-building began.

I wonder what will happen if I take this away?  I said reaching for one of the mugs Sofia used to support the cork log-pile.  Natalie screamed as corks crashed across the table.

Nat screams when I pull the stops out.

Not one to miss out on any action, FLD Gus scampered over.  Gypsy growled as he bumped past.  She wasn't sure exactly what was happening with all the packing commotion, but she was sure it couldn't be good.  She kept in high alert between us girls and the stairs going down to the basement.

Nat slipped off her chair to the tile floor to snuggle with Gus, who no longer fit in her lap.  (See my post from October 11, 2010 to see how much he's grown!)  "You know," she said, "I'm excited and happy for you and Uncle Andy, but still, it's a little sad."

Nat and FLD Gus, who weighed in at 39 lbs at 6 months.

Yep, I know what you mean, I said.  I'll miss you girls...but you can always come and visit.  And we'll be back to see you, too!


Monday, January 17, 2011

A Puppy of Many Skills


The fact that we are moving seems to have no impact on FLD Gus.  He follows us upstairs and downstairs and back up again as we cart cardboard boxes full of stuff collected from years of living resourcefully in a small space.  He decides to help.

Gus, what do you have?  I ask, hearing a strange metallic noise coming from his direction behind me on the stairs.

I set my box down and look back when I reach the landing.  FLD Gus stands at the bottom with Andy's red and black handled flat-head screwdriver hanging out of his mouth like a long cigar.  Gus, give, I say, descending to him.  He lifts his head as if to hand it to me.  I take the tool.  Good give, Gus.  Thank you for helping.

FLD Gus is like this all day.  Following.  Bringing me things.

As I judiciously select items from the upstairs medicine cabinet to take (we'll still need some things because we'll be coming back to the city a couple times each month), I notice Gus juggling something in his mouth.  What do you have, now, Gus?  He stops juggling.  I can't see what he has; a huge dust-bunny is stuck to his wet nose.  I reach down to check with a finger-swipe but before I get to him he purses his puppy-lips and spits out--what is that?  A DIME!  I can't believe it.

Picking up a dime (especially on hardwood floors) is a commendable skill, frequently taught to assistance dogs.  Yet FLD Gus figures it out, all by himself!

Another dime and one penny later, our upstairs rooms are clean of all errant change.

Eventually, the U-Haul gets loaded.  The townhouse is not quite empty, but empty enough to echo with our footsteps like the hollow sound when you tap a dried-out gourd.  We spend a "camping" night here before driving north the next morning--sleeping on a makeshift bed on the floor, realizing too late that we've packed all of our clothes.  No clean clothes for the morning...oh well, we'll just be sweating it out again at the other end, unloading.


Andy's son-in-law kids us about moving to a rural setting in northern Michigan.  "Just back up to the garage, open the door, and floor the truck--everything will dump out into the garage!"  He says that's an example of the saying, "You know you're a redneck when..."

Some hours later, our new place is in such disarray we might just as well have floored the truck.  I wonder how long it will take to find anything, and then how long it will take to relearn where we put it!

I'm behind the couch reattaching the reclining sofa backs when FLD Gus brings me Andy's yellow work glove.  Gus, give.  Good boy!  I take the glove into the foyer where we've been leaving our assorted winter gear as we come in, but I cannot find the matching glove in all the mess.  I set the lone glove on the shelf and return to the living room.  I get back to work and nonchalantly say to Gus, Where's the other glove, Gus?  Find it!

A few minutes later, FLD Gus trots jauntily over with what looks like a yellow rooster comb hanging from his mouth.  Gus, how did you get that?  The foyer shelf is shoulder-high and I hope he didn't jump up to get it.  Gus, give.  Again, he readily complies.

In the foyer, the glove I placed on the shelf is right where I left it.  Gus found the missing glove! 

Good find, Gus!

This is what I mean when I remark that FLD Gus is "scary smart."  He learns skills on his own.  He understands more than I realize.  If one day he decides that the job of guide-dog doesn't suit him, I'm sure another service dog position will!

(As evident, we are in the process of moving, so my posts might be sporadic for a little while.  I hope you don't mind!  Stay tuned for further adventures of FLD Gus in the beautiful north.)

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Fellow-blogger Sharon, at "After / Gadget " started an Assistance Dog Blog Carnival last fall.  Sort of like a quarterly collection of blog postings about a specific theme, but somehow concerning assistance dogs.  

Follow this link to the FIRST Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, hosted by Sharon, the theme of which was an Assistance Dog "First."  (To read my contribution, click on My FIRST: Future Leader Dog Puppy.)

Coming up next week is the second "issue" of the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, this time hosted by L^2 at "Dog's Eye View."  L^2 selected this quarter's theme, DECISIONS.

My submission follows:


Gypsy sprawled out on the daybed; FLD Mike curled up at my feet on the rug under the kitchen table.  I enjoyed a long drink of cold water.  Our 2 1/2 mile "slog" (can't really call it "jogging" I'm so slow) on the sandy dirt roads surrounding the Beary Wood Lodge tired all of us out.  And September still held plenty of summer.

Unexpectedly, the phone rang.  Cell-phone coverage at my brother's cabin is non-existent due to being surrounded by the Huron National Forest, so Andy had a phone-line with DSL Internet installed.  I forgot that before we lost "bars" on the drive up I programmed my cell to forward all calls to the cabin.

"Hello, Patti?"  It was Sandy, from Leader Dogs for the BlindYes.

"I wanted to give you a choice for next week."

FLD Mike was going back to Leader Dogs the next Monday to begin his "formal" guide-dog training.  A month earlier, Sandy wanted me to "overlap" and take another puppy before Mike returned, but our townhouse rules prohibit more than two "fur-bearing" animals.  Leader Dogs is desperate for puppy-raisers (hint, hint).  Instead I agreed to take my third puppy five days after returning Mike.

"I know we have next Saturday already scheduled for you, but we have a male puppy ready that you could take home the same day you bring Mike back," Sandy explained.  She went on to tell me what breed-stock this puppy came from, but as a fairly-rookie puppy-raiser, I wasn't familiar with his parents.  "Or, you can keep the Saturday appointment.  I just wanted to give you the choice."

I wasn't quite sure what Sandy was asking of me.  When you apply to raise a puppy, you can specify your preference for sex and/or breed; once a puppy becomes available, you schedule a pickup time that works for you.  Beyond this, the specific puppy you receive is totally random.  Did Sandy want me to take this returned puppy?  Was there an issue with him that she thought I could handle?

"There's nothing wrong with this puppy," she said.  "The family that took him realized they were in over their heads--they have small children and this was there very first puppy.  Ever."

Well, I thought as I stood up from the table and began pacing around the cabin, better to return him early, than risk future problems. 

I guess I would rather wait until Saturday, I said.  I think I need a few days to get over Mike.  After I returned my first Future Leader Dog puppy, Rosie, in July of 2009, I waited until November to get FLD Mike.  It IS a sad day when you bring your puppy back, and I didn't want to jump right in with a new, demanding bundle of fur.  Andy and I took our big bike ride to Green Bay, Wisconsin in August of 2009, and besides, if Rosie were to be career-changed, I wanted her back; I wanted to keep my options open.

"Oh, I understand that," said Sandy.  "Okay.  But.  There is something else you should know.  The yellow-lab puppy that's coming in for you is from a donated litter.  The breeder told us she is worried about him, something about him being too small or something.  We won't know for sure that we'll take him until we check him over."

If you don't, does that mean I'll have to wait longer for another puppy?  Or can you hold the returned one until Saturday?  I asked.  I had to admit that I wasn't excited about taking a couple-of-weeks-older puppy--they grow SO fast.

"If you want a yellow-lab, you'll have to wait.  But we do have another black lab male you could take Saturday, from Sy and Sienna's litter."  Another breed-stock pair I didn't know.  "I just wanted to give you a choice." 

I hesitated, paused in my pacing.  Okay.  Well, what will be the most helpful to you?  I still wondered if there was something else behind Sandy's call, but maybe she didn't want to come right out and say.

"Whatever YOU want," she said.  "I just wanted to give you the opportunity to decide." 

I started pacing again.  Why was this becoming so difficult for me?  I suppose it didn't really matter.  I agreed to raise a puppy and whatever helped Leader Dogs would be fine with me.  This wasn't so when I applied for Rosie and Mike.  I requested a female black lab the first time (and waited nine months before I receive her); I never owned a male dog.  Part of my reason to raise a puppy for Leader Dogs was to practice my own "dog" skills, so the second time I requested a male.  Of any breed.

I think it might have been my puppy-counselor who told me, "If you don't care what sex, you'll always get a male."  I guess most people want females!  This third time the sex of the puppy didn't matter to me, but my niece Natalie thought it would be neat if I raised a yellow lab.  So I requested a yellow lab.

At any rate, I was overwhelmed with all the options.  In the long run, it really didn't matter.  Whatever puppy I took home wasn't going to belong to ME.  In less than one year the puppy would return to Leader Dogs for the Blind to fulfill his destiny.  My role was just his beginning.

I decided to raise my first Future Leader Dog puppy to strengthen and test my own skills.  My decision to raise a second Future Leader Dog puppy came on the heels of a thoughtful sermon by  my brother, Reverend Jim.  (See my post from May 19, 2010.)  I HAD to raise a second puppy--because I COULD and someone needed me to.

At the annual "Puppy Days" at Leader Dogs for the Blind last July, Jim Platzer and his Leader Dog Maddy inspired me again.  (Read my post from August 5, 2010 to learn about "Maddy's letter.")  There was no way I could NOT raise another puppy after listening to Jim explain how Maddy changed his life.

Really, Sandy, it doesn't matter to me.  I'll do whatever helps you.

"It's your choice," Sandy replied.

We weren't getting anywhere!

Eventually, we decided that if Sandy couldn't find another raiser for the returned puppy, I would take him the Saturday after I returned Mike.  If she found him a home, I would hold out for the donated yellow lab puppy.  If Leader Dogs decided not to accept the yellow lab, I'd be happy with the black lab male from Sy and Sienna's litter.


I didn't know that making a decision like this could be so difficult!

Which puppy did I end up with?  Sy and Sienna's little black lab puppy, dubbed "Mr. Blue" by the host family of his mother, Sienna.  (The host family ties colored ribbons on the pups to tell them apart.)  Sandy found a raiser for the returned puppy, and the breeder never brought the little yellow lab to Leader Dogs.

Looks like my decision about any future puppies I raise will be easier--I'll just get male black labs!

FLD Gus, formally known as "Mr. Blue."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tuesday's Training TIP: PUBLIC MEET & GREET

FLD Gus needed a walk; his morning energy had nowhere to go.  

In spite of snow shards slapping our faces, I walked him up to the corner pharmacy.  I had to pick up a prescription anyway.  (Did you know they give tetanus shots every 5 years now?!  A nasty cut on my knuckle got infected and now it's antibiotics time.  Rats.)

I'm not sure that Gus's future handler would want to brave the out-of-doors and slippery sidewalks on such a wintry day, but it is important to expose this Future Leader Dog to every kind of weather, just in case.

Nippy wind and snow-dust didn't deter FLD Gus, but he forced me to walk backwards a bit as we approached the entrance to Walgreen's.  A little too eager!  Once inside, Gus morphed into a patient puppy, a fine ambassador for Leader Dogs for the Blind.

We practiced our RIGHT and LEFT turns up and down the aisles, taking the long way to the rear of the store.  Gus.  SIT, I commanded when we finally arrived at the pharmacy counter.  Gus sat, but soon slid into a DOWN.  I faked a step forward to get him up; then helped him back into his SIT.

On our way out, I paused at a display of $10 pet beds.  We finally disposed of Gypsy's old bed, tired of pulling puffs of stuffing from Gus's mouth.  A woman with an armload of items approached and asked, "We can't pet them, can we?"

Thanks for asking, I said.  I decided to test Gus.  Why don't you help me train him?  Let me get him into a SIT and then you can pet him.  If he gets up, or tries to put his mouth on your hand, just take your hand away and step back.  He needs to learn how to sit nicely when people come up to us.

Gus.  SIT.  FLD Gus looked up at me and immediately sat.  The woman juggled her purchases and stepped forward with one arm stretched toward Gus.  He raised his nose in anticipation, but did not get up.  After a few attempts at licking her (she removed her hand each time), he settled in for a nice round of petting.  Good boy, Gus!

The woman and I had the usual talk about "how hard it must be to give them up," and "such a good thing for you to do," and "he is SO precious!"  Then it was time to brave the winter storm and walk home.

Gus.  HEEL.

If Gus seemed a bit reluctant to leave the warm store and go back out into the weather, once he "parked" and we were on our way, he heeled comfortably at my side.

FLD Gus didn't start out behaving this well for a "public" MEET & GREET.  We started out practicing this at home with family and friends, and in puppy-class at Leader Dogs for the Blind.  (Read my post from November 9, 2010 to learn how to introduce a proper Meet & Greet to your puppy.)

Once FLD Gus seemed to get the idea, it has been fun to solicit strangers (who ask to pet him) for their help.  Now I am proud when Gus sits so nice!

  • If you've worked on MEET & GREET in a controlled setting first, try asking someone in public to help you "train" your puppy.  They are typically eager to help, and it becomes another opportunity to educate the public.
  • Explain what you are going to do and how they can help.
  • Get your puppy into a SIT, and then ask the person to approach.
  • Don't say anything to your puppy if he or she gets up.  Ask the person to step back and calmly put your puppy back into a SIT.
  • Repeat.
  • If your puppy gets too excited and just won't hold the SIT, tell the person that your puppy isn't able to stay calm today.  Don't be afraid to ask them to refrain from petting your puppy.  Because you've explained everything, they will readily agree that it isn't a good idea!
  • Try to get your puppy into a SIT with the person a few steps back.
  • Thank the stranger for helping you.  This is a good opportunity to have your puppy hold the SIT for a few moments, with the distraction moved away.  Even though it may seem that your puppy did not succeed, remember that your puppy is still LEARNING.  He or she will do better the next time!

(Oops!  I missed posting this yesterday, on TUESDAY!  Well, I hope that it is better to post  this TIP a day late than never.  Now, out to have some fun in the snow...yesterday's storm dropped a lot more than the four inches the weather reporters predicted!)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pet Blogger Challenge

Edie Jarolim, of "Will My Dog Hate Me," and Amy of "Go Pet Friendly Blog," thought it would be a good idea to look back on our blogs with an eye to the future.  They started a "Pet Blogger Challenge"--a series of questions about our blogs.  

Even though my blog, "plays with puppies," is not so much about my "pet," I still thought I would participate.  Thanks Edie and Amy, for giving me something to think about!

1. When did you begin your blog?

March 31, 2010, shortly after Rosie, the first puppy I raised for Leader Dogs for the Blind, was career-changed. Rosie was an eager, too-fast-paced black lab that made it through all of the training at Leader Dogs, but had to be held over three times for failure to find a good match.  (To read more about Rosie, just click on the label "Rosie" or the "Rosie Road.")

2. What was your original purpose for starting a blog?

I wanted a personal challenge and discipline to help me write daily.  I started my blog about my experiences raising Future Leader Dog puppies because I am interested in dog training and Leader Dogs and I thought it would be a good "niche" topic.  I wanted to integrate photography and poetry in my blog, as well as providing "training tips" for other dog-owners, or new puppy-raisers.  Ideally, I hoped my blog might inspire others to become puppy-raisers, or to become a resource for other puppy-raisers.

3. Is your current purpose the same?

Yes, although now I am raising my third Leader Dog puppy, Gus!

FLD Gus, snowboarding!

If not, what’s different?

If so, how do you feel you’ve met your goals?

Keeping this blog rolling has indeed helped me to discipline myself to writing daily, well, at least five days a week.  I'm not sure how much of a resource it has become to new puppy-raisers, but my readers seem to enjoy keeping up with my puppies!  I admit that it sometimes is frustrating to come up with fresh ideas every day.  Writing proves to be a bigger challenge when other things in my life demand attention.

4. Do you blog on a schedule or as the spirit moves you?

I have a self-imposed deadline to post five days a week.  Sometimes the spirit is not so moving!

5. Are you generating income from your blog?


If so, how (e.g. sponsor ads, affiliate relationships, spokesperson opportunities)?

6. What do you like most about blogging in general and your blog in particular (bragging is good!)?

Blogging, in general, has expanded my exposure to others who benefit from assistance dogs.  Knowing the difference I can make in someone's life by raising a Future Leader Dog keeps me inspired to keep raising them!

One of the things I like about my blog is that it enables some of my friends to "keep track" of what I am doing.  It's a fun way to stay connected.

7. What do you like least?

I don't like posting something I've written that really needs more work!

8. How do you see your blog changing/growing in 2011?

Of course, I will continue writing about FLD Gus, my current puppy.  Next month I hope to report that my second puppy, Mike, will be placed with his new person.  He is currently in Phase IV training at Leader Dogs and if all goes well, he is scheduled to graduate next month!  That will make my year!  

And then...a fourth puppy?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Winter's Walk

She walked him on her right side.  And was nervous about slipping.

Less than an inch had fallen, but snow was fluttering again, lightly.  Where homeowners had shoveled the inch, I lost her tracks, so I knew she traveled not long ahead.  

I paused to place my foot into her print.  Her shoes were narrower than my worn-down Merrill hiking boots, and about a big toe-nail longer.  The X-shapes carved into the snow from her tracks were most likely an ice and snow traction device made by Yaktrax.  (I looked it up on the Internet when I got home.)

The unknown woman either abbreviated her stride for increased stability where ice sometimes hid under the snow, or her legs were much shorter than mine.  At first I figured that her dog was small (under 30 pounds), but as I observed Gypsy step along (sniffing at bunny-rabbit or squirrel tracks that wove across the ribbon of sidewalk), I saw that her paw tracks were about the same size, and Gypsy's gait appeared shorter.  Perhaps not so small a dog wandered from right to left, sniffing at tree trunks and fire hydrants.

There!  A yellow mark on a snow pile at the corner of a driveway.

I glanced left at FLD Gus as he lifted his nose, swinging it side to side to scrutinize the air.  Did he smell the snow that drifted lazily down upon us?  I could not tell.  He bounced along in enthusiasm, as if the sidewalk depressed and rebounded with his weight like a trampoline.

It's funny how different my three Future Leader Dogs have been.

Rosie trotted with her head bobbling right to left like a bobble-head doll.  Mike kept his gaze steadily forward, until he dropped his sniffer to investigate this, that, and anything on the ground.  Even at seven-weeks-old, Gus preferred to look about him.

I wonder how the veteran puppy-raisers, who've raised 20 and more puppies, view their charges.  What characteristics stand out in each of them?  The lift of their nose?  What drew their attention? How they enjoyed being petted, or how they avoided?

Rose was not the snuggler that Mike was; and Gus isn't either, although he's surprising me lately.  If I sit on the floor in the evening, he'll carry over a Nylabone to lie down against my leg  Last night he climbed across my legs to chew, but soon his eyelids drifted like a lazy summer sunset, and he fell fast asleep, his heavy head cradled in my arm.

Of course, many things must have been similar, especially within the same breeds.  My Future Leader Dog puppies have all been black labs--passionate eaters who leapt ahead of me when I went to the basement to resupply their food containers, snarfed around for fallen crumbs, twirled and bounded up the stairs in a race to the mat, where they'd twirl again to drop their butt on the mat in a SIT, trembling at the sound of kibble as it hit the stainless steel bowl, but still containing themselves for my OK before they launched to bury their head into their breakfast.  Don't all Labs eat like this?

I lost the tracks of the woman and her dog.  Did we pass a house where she ended her walk?  Did she take a corner turn?

Suddenly, new marks in the snow caught my attention.  Two sets of people-steps, one set of paws, and a curious double slashing in the snow.  What caused that weird design? I wondered.  Pairs of curving arcs like five-feet-long parenthesis arced away to the street-side of the sidewalk, then arced the other direction; at every other house or so, just one long straight slash.  Maybe one of those retractable leashes and the dog ran ahead and then paused to sniff, snapping the leash into the snow?  But the paw prints stayed steady, apparently in a nicely controlled heel on the left.  Hmmmm.....

The ring of my cell phone interrupted my perusal.  My sister Anne. 

"I just have to tell  you what Natalie said this morning," she told me.  "The doctor said she should stay home from school today.  She's not feeling too bad, but she has bronchitis and he thought she should have a nice, long weekend rest.  Well, she was being a little nervous about staying home alone."  (Anne had to work from 11am to 2pm.)  "I was going over all the options with her.  'We could call aunt patti, or Miss Sharon, or Margaret.'  All of a sudden Nat blurted out, 'Hey, I have Rosie!  I'll be just fine, mom, I won't be alone, Rosie's here!'"

I smiled. 

After more than three miles of walking with my dogs on a winter's day, my face felt rosy and warm. 

Or, maybe it was just Rosie.

A regal Rosie in winter.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Poetry: Haiku Teeth

"at 5 1/2 months"

terrible teething
leaves blood spots and horrible breath
canine   hanging    on

FLD Gus looses another tooth.
New teeth coming in; canines still holding.

Poor FLD Gus...he doesn't quite know what to do!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Puppy Update III

Today I received news that FLD Mike has just entered Phase 4 of training at Leader Dogs for the Blind!



We're keeping our fingers crossed (and toes and paws)...if all goes well Mike will be placed with his person next month!

FLD Mike on his mat.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


It was dark.  FLD Gus led me to the common area of our townhouse complex to "park."  As we rounded the corner past the last privacy fence, something startled Gus.

"WOOF!" he barked, in his now getting-older-and-deeper-puppy bark.  It was a warning.  He stopped in a point, nose lifted, front left leg curled up against his chest, thick tail poised in a straight line from his nose.

I followed his gaze.

A puff of wind whipped around the building and a plastic grocery bag inflated, stuck in the lower branches of a leafless bush.

"WOOOOOOF!"  This bark carried a bit more challenge.

I laughed.  It's just a bag, Gus!  And started walking further along the sidewalk.

He would have nothing of it.  Front legs planted and FLD Gus bowed his head in protest.  "I'm not going near it!" he seemed to exclaim. 

Ok, now I had a problem to resolve.  I couldn't let him go the other way.  My job as puppy-raiser was to help Gus conquer this newfound fear.  Gus.  Heel.  I commanded and took a step forward.

He balked, but only for just a moment. 

I heeled FLD Gus up to the bush and paused.  OK! I said and released him from command.  I squatted near the bag and coaxed him to me.'s just a bag.  Come here, Gus. 

FLD Gus cocked his head to consider, then bounced over, keeping one eye on the bag.  Good boy!

He sniffed it.

Lost interest.

And "parked" nearby, his surprise fear conquered.

It is not at all unusual for a puppy (at any age) to be "surprised" like FLD Gus was, even over silly things like a wayward, inflated bag.  The trick for us humans is to not show alarm ourselves, or inadvertently reinforce the puppy's fear with "goo-goo" talk and petting.  While hugs and touches might be something that reassures US, human behavior of this sort only encourages continuation of the puppy's fear-behavior.

The best reaction as the puppy's leader is to ignore the fear-behavior, and continue as if nothing is amiss.  It's like when your kid slips and falls, there is a brief moment of frozen time when the child looks to you for your reaction.  If you overreact, the child is sure to go on to win a drama-award.  A brush off comment like, "SAFE!  Way to go!" is more likely to stem the tears and bring out a tough-kid smile.

  • Stay calm--do not transmit negative emotions through the leash.
  • Reverse direction to distance your puppy from the surprise and stop when your puppy is calmer.
  • Divert your puppy's attention with a command such as SIT or DOWN.
  • Heel your puppy past the surprise at a distance that helps your puppy stay calm.  It is okay if your puppy shows interest.
  • Keep heeling your puppy past the surprise, moving a little closer each time, as long as your puppy continues to stay calm.
  • If your puppy reacts again, just heel him or her a bit further away, but don't give up when your puppy is still fearful!  Work your puppy until he or she is calm again.

When my first Future Leader Dog puppy, Rosie, was about eight months old, I heeled her on a sidewalk in front of a Catholic school.  As we passed a statue of the Virgin Mary, Rosie panicked and vocalized her concern.  I stopped, reversed direction, and moved some distance away into the parking lot where I could heel her parallel to the statue without her getting overly excited.

Rose and I heeled back and forth, back and forth, back and forth; so many times I was worried that someone from the school would call the authorities to report me as a stalker!  Eventually, I inched our way closer to the statue, until we were able to walk close by on the sidewalk and even pause in front of it without Rosie reacting.

This evening, I took FLD Gus out to the same common area to "park."  The bag was still hanging in the bush.  He glanced at it, and did his business.  I suppose I really should remove the bag and throw it away, now that Gus has gotten over it!

Monday, January 3, 2011


Officer’s notes at the scene of the crime.
Just before dinnertime on Monday, January 3, 2011, at the residence of Larry and Donna, witnesses observed the suspect carrying a small hat.  The witnesses thought that the suspect appeared unconcerned and looked like he was about to say, “Look what I found!”  He had just come around from behind the loveseat.

Witness Statements
Witness #1, Larry, owner of said residence, reported that the hat belonged to one of a pair of stuffed bears that were positioned under an end table at the far end of the loveseat.  Larry stated that he heard no scuffle.  He was seated across the room at the time of the incident, but had a good vantage point to view the suspect as he came out from behind the loveseat.
Witness #2, Donna, Larry’s wife, was sitting on the loveseat at the time of the incident.  She also reported hearing nothing, but stated that the second bear had previously lost its hat and wondered if the suspect had also stolen that hat.  At this point, Larry broke in to say that the other hat had probably been taken by Lola, a young scrapper of a dog that belongs to his daughter, who does not live with them.  Donna concurred.
Witness #3, Andy, friend of Larry and Donna, agreed that the suspect probably did not take the other hat.  Andy was also sitting on the loveseat at the time of the incident, and did not hear anything unusual.
Witness #4, patti, wife of Andy and raiser of the suspect, had been keeping an eye on the suspect.  He was out of her view for only a few moments.  She approached the suspect as soon as she saw him with the hat.  The suspect did not resist and she took the hat away from him and returned it to the bear.  “I did not look him in the eyes,” she stated to me.  Patti also reported that the suspect has been known to bring shoes to her attention in the past, but the suspect had only done this twice in the last two weeks.

Puppy Police Theft Report
City of:  Sterling Heights                  Date:  1/3/11
Victim:  stuffed bear
Witness #1:  Larry
Witness #2:  Donna
Witness #3:  Andy
Witness #4:  patti
Suspect Description:  5 months old, less than 3 feet tall, about 35 pounds, black fur, brown eye color, jumps around on all fours and has a fiercely wagging tail.  Suspect’s breath reeked of teething.

Around 6:00 pm on Monday, January 3, 2011, witness #1 spotted the suspect carrying a small hat in his mouth as he walked around a loveseat in his living room.  The other three witnesses saw him at about the same time.  No one heard anything unusual.  Witness #4 immediately retrieved the hat and returned it to the bear.  There were no damages done to the hat.  The suspect had nothing to say, but did not deny absconding with the hat.  The bear refused to bring charges.  The other bear's hat was not found.