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Friday, April 29, 2011

Bed Maker Puppy?

If desire to "do something, anything to help" is a positive indicator of a potential Leader Dog, then FLD Gus ranks high on the list.

  • He watches.
  • He figures out what he can do that mimes whatever I am doing.
  • He tackles it, with gusto!


Oh, to wake up as happy as a Lab puppy!

Every morning, after Andy takes the dogs out to "park," Gus bounds into our room, anxious to roust me from bed.  After an enthusiastic face washing, I typically comply.

But a funny habit I have is to get out of bed and turn to make it right away.

Gus tails behind me as I maneuver around our queen-sized platform bed.  I tuck in the sheet, straighten the pillows, and pull our green down comforter neatly in place.

This morning, as I bent to snug the sheet between the mattress and the platform side, Gus lifted his front paw and pushed against the sheet as if he wanted me to know, "I can help!"


Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Letter to Sofia

Today's post is a letter to my niece, Sofia.  You might have read about her here.
Sofia, on the observation tower at Rifle River State Rec Area.

Hi Sofia!

Gus and I just got home from a hike down the new "Snow Shoe Trail" that I am clearing (with Gus's help, see my post from Monday) through the middle of our woods.  We are SOAKED!  This is our third day of rain!

We also walked into the park a little bit, but not on the ski trail.  Instead, we ambled along paths that looked like deer highways.  Gus got pretty excited when he saw some Trumpeter Swans take flight, but he was on his leash so he didn't run off after them!

On Easter, Gus and Gypsy and I took Uncle Andy to the observation tower in the park (like we did with your sisters on April 11).  It was sunny, and much warmer Sunday.  There was a swarm of annoying gnats at the top of the tower, so we didn't stay up there very long; there weren't any eagles in the nest anyway.  All the ice is off the water now, and no more snow in the woods.

No ice on Lodge Lake.

Thanks again for coming with me to meet Eric and see LD Mike before he goes off to Spain.  Wasn't that a special hour?  My face hurt from smiling so much.

I hope you don't have so much homework next week when Gus has class at Leader Dogs.  I missed you coming with us last time.

By the way, how is school going?  I know that getting to the end of May feels like our never-ending rain, but someday you'll look back and appreciate what you've learned about dealing with all kinds of people.  I'm proud of you for your accomplishments in school this year!

I heard that Rosie-dosie is becoming an expert thief.  I think putting her food container in the closet is a good idea.  Gypsy figured out that when we're not around she could knock the cup of Gus's food-treats off the windowsill in the kitchen!  I think she tried to pretend that Gus did it because I found Gus playing with the (empty) cup in the living room.  Yesterday Andy caught Gypsy standing with her paws on the window sill to sniff at the cup, so we know that SHE is the culprit.  Do you think maybe the "weight-control" food we feed her and Rosie makes them extra hungry?

Gotta go...Uncle Andy needs to go town and I'm going with him so I can work on "leave it" with FLD Gus at the Tractor Supply store.  Lots of interesting temptations for Gus--they sell baby chicks there!  Besides, I need to buy more birdseed for the feeders.

Brown Headed Cowbirds having a seed party.  (There was still snow just 6 days ago!)

I'm looking forward to seeing you and your sisters on Tuesday when we come back to the city.  Hopefully the rain will stop by then so Rosie and Gus can "Lab-wrestle" outside!

love and hugs, aunt patti

(Uncle Andy sends a hug, and Gypsy and Gus, too!)

Uncle Andy waves HI from the fishing dock on Grebe Lake.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Social Media Club's Blogging Event

I cheated.

The rain eased enough for lightly stepping through the wet woods leaving only paws to wipe.  FLD Gus got some physical exercise after all yesterday, before our two-hour drive to Central Michigan University (CMU) for the Social Media Club event on blogging.

It would be a long evening for him.  We met the event organizers and three other presenters at the Mt. Pleasant Brewery for dinner prior to the hour and a half panel discussion at the Bovee University Center auditorium.  And then, of course, the two-hour drive home.


A few blocks from the Brewery, we spotted a Habitat for Humanity ReStore (Andy works for the state support office).  Since we were a bit early we stopped for a quick visit.  FLD Gus was eager to exit the van.  Leash clipped, he knew the routine.  "Park," blue working vest got clipped on, I said, Gus, heel.

While Andy chatted with the store manager, however, Gus showed a peculiar interest in something on the other side of the narrow aisle way.  Gus, leave it, I said, straightening his "stand" at my left side.  That didn't last long.  Again, Gus pulled.  Gus, I said, with no reaction from him.  His nose lifted and strained toward a freezer chest marked "for sale," its once-white lid pocked with rust.  A finger poke brought Gus's head back around, but just for a moment.  His sniffing and snorting sounded like a pig searching for truffles.  I heeled him away, imagining all sorts of nasty-dead-things that freezer might once have held.

FLD Gus laid quietly at my right side during dinner.  "He is always good in restaurants," said Andy, perhaps a testimony to our going over budget on eating out.  As we left, a stray popcorn kernel on the floor near the bar proved his "leave it" needs more work.  (No, he did not get it, but he tried!)


As any puppy-raiser quickly realizes, opportunities abound in any public setting and CMU was no exception.  Strangers, doors that open from the left (necessitating an "around"), slippery floor surfaces, stairs, even a not-so-steady ramp up to the stage of the auditorium.  FLD Gus negotiated all with ease.  During the panel discussion, he relaxed comfortably on his "mat" next to me.

FLD Gus and me, entering the auditorium.

Members of the Great Lakes Bay chapter of the Social Media Club selected diverse participants for the panel.
  • Dan and Jennifer Digmann write a personal blog with an educational and inspirational bent, about their experiences living with multiple sclerosis (here is a link to their blog: 
  •  Kati Mora's blog, around the plate, is a terrific example of entrepreneurism.  A Registered Dietitian, Kati is building a forum for dietary professionals and a resource for anyone with a desire to eat for better health.
  • Grace Derocha, also a Registered Dietitian, is a corporate blogger for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan's site, "A Healthier Michigan."
  • And me!  I hoped that my blog would represent a "creative non-fiction" side of things, but it was obvious who was the "rookie blogger" sitting at the table!

(Yep, that's my finger, pointing at ME.)

At least I brought a great "prop!"  FLD Gus, as usual, was a great hit.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday's Training TIP: What To Do On a Rainy Day?

Rain.  Looks like an all-day-er.  Unless I want to manage the bathing (and drying) of two sandy wet dogs, I won't be walking in the woods with FLD Gus and Gypsy today.

But.   I need to tire out Gus, who is accompanying me to Central Michigan University this evening.  We are invited participants on a panel of bloggers for an event sponsored by the Social Media Club, Great Lakes Bay Chapter.  (Here is a link for more information:

Remember my oft-repeated adage:  A Tired Puppy is a Good Puppy?  I need FLD Gus to be on his best behavior during the hour and a half event.  So, what do do?


1)  Be glad your puppy got so much exercise yesterday (when it didn't rain) that his laid-back attitude has carried over to today!

FLD Gus settles at the restaurant.
2)  Drive to town for breakfast.  Work on "leave it" and "settle" exercises. 

3)  Continue work on "advanced leave it" at the grocery store before returning home.

4)  As you go about your daily "chores," practice "mat" and "down stays."

Add a few "name recognitions" too.  Gus! Good boy!

I'll keep you posted on FLD Gus's behavior tonight!

Monday, April 25, 2011

FLD Gus: a.k.a "Forest Gus"

Andy (at his desk):  "The computer-weather says it's going to rain after 2:00 this afternoon."

Me (coming in from taking the dogs out to "park"): There is some spotty blue sky, but clouds are moving in.  'Might rain later.  Your computer-weather guys may well be right today.

Mutual decision:  "Let's get out early and haul the stacks up from the north-side trail."

One stack of wood.

Gypsy is not eager to get off the couch; I leave FLD Gus in his crate.  We took a long hike yesterday through the woods so a bit of down time won't hurt.  Andy and I venture out without them, for now.

We load our Chevy S10 pickup with cut logs three times, driving carefully down the two-track tote path that runs the perimeter of our woods, to unload and stack this part of next winter's firewood in the woodshed near our Hawken furnace.  We are like inverse squirrels--late winter/early spring storage instead of fall foraging.  This is work best done before temperatures push past the 50's and the forest underbrush leafs out too thick.

Andy:  "Okay, let's leave it at that.  We can't get the rest until we open up the south-side trail."

We have two-to-three cords staged for pickup on a cross-trail near the south property border, but we need to open up a turn-around and fill in a few low spots to get the truck close.  If these logs fill the woodshed, our work felling trees this spring is done.  (As a backup, there is an abundance of natural tree falls we can harvest, and most of them are pretty well dry.)  The old adage about using wood for heat is wrong--you don't get warm twice (cutting, then burning), but THREE times:  1) cutting, 2) stacking and hauling, 3) burning.

Me:  I'll take the dogs out with me for a bit.  I want to clear more of my trail.


FLD Gus, Gypsy, and I have been breaking a new trail through the middle of our 13 acres since we bought the place in December.  "Snow-Shoe Trail" travels east to west, intersecting with three  north/south cross-trails already in existence.  Armed with my new pruning shears and the bow saw, we head out.

Gus watches intently as I lop off 1/4 inch seedlings, or saw thicker saplings that obstruct the trail and toss them aside.  I edge the trail with long limbs.  Gus gets excited about this; he hears a litany of "leave its" when he tries to help by grabbing each limb I set.  In the winter he watched me drag downed, thick boughs back to the yard for the furnace, and took it upon himself to assist by dragging home the biggest limbs he could carry.

FLD Gus maneuvering a long stick along Snow-Shoe Trail.

Funny puppy.

I bend to snip another shoot; as I straighten I notice Gus is gnawing at the base of a sapling that is as big around as my finger.  Gus, what are you doing?

He looks up at me briefly, and gets back to work.  Four feet planted, Gus puts all of his 57 pounds behind each yank.  The muscles under his sleek black-Lab coat ripple as he rocks to and fro gaining momentum against the roots.  He's trying to pull the darn thing right out of the ground!

Gus tugs and tugs.  Determined.

Just when I think I'm going to have to help him with the bow saw, the roots release their hold and Gus bounces back with the sapling hanging from his mouth.  Good boy, Gus!  I say and he drops it on the trail, panting a Lab-grin.

Forest Gus.  Scary-smart pup.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What a Difference a Week Makes!

Earth Day, 2011.

One week ago today, I took FLD Gus and Gypsy on a three-mile hike through our woods and into the Rifle River Recreation Area.  My mission:  to wear them out for the long drive south to the city.  It was a beautiful morning in the spring-preparing woods.  (And the dogs were no trouble during our drive!)

This morning, back at home in the north, the dogs and I revisited the woods.  Only, it had snowed again while we were south!  There wasn't much left, and by this afternoon the trails were mostly clear, but where the shadows deepened, the snow lingers still.  Gus didn't seem to mind.

The following video illustrates the difference a week made...what will another week bring?


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Big City Distractions

Before leaving the city (on our way back home to the beautiful north woods), I stopped by a bicycle store to pick up some new brake pads for Andy's recumbent.  A busy paving crew was steaming it up outside--a good training opportunity for FLD Gus!  Check out this short video of him staying calm  and attentive amidst the noise and stinky tar.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

REACTIONS: Meeting LD Mike's New Handler

Today's post is my submission to Sharon Wachlser's quarterly ASSISTANCE DOG BLOG CARNIVAL, hosted this time on the blog "The Trouble Is..."  The topic for this third Carnival is:  REACTIONS.  To read my submission to the 2nd Carnival, read my post: "Decisions at Beary-Wood Lodge," and to the 1st, read my post: "My First Future Leader Dog Puppy."  When the third Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is up for reading, I will post the link so you can enjoy reading about REACTIONS from the various perspectives of Service Dog users, trainers, or other raisers.

Definition of REACTION 
-taken from the online dictionaries Merriam-Webster and The Learners Dictionary.

: a response to some treatment, situation, or stimulus

: the way someone acts or feels in response to something that happens, is said, etc.
: in chemistry: a chemical change that occurs when two or more substances combine to form a new substance


I did not hurry from Anne's, where I stopped to wish her a Happy Birthday and pick up Sofia; rather, I hesitated as long as I could.  I had less than one hour to drive seven miles to drop Gypsy and FLD Gus off at the townhouse, then drive 17 miles more across town to Leader Dogs for the Blind.

My opportunity to meet LD Mike's new handler, Eric, was scheduled for 6:30 pm.

And yet.

I delayed.

FLD Mike was a special puppy.  Loving, intelligent, easy-going.  Sofia, my quiet supporter, stayed my tears seven months ago when we returned FLD Mike to Leader Dogs.  (To read about Mike's return day, check out my post from September 10, 2010.)  My last view of him was his wagging tail as he bounced away at the left side of Mike, a Leader Dog employee, his blocky-Lab head turned up to the other Mike in a grin as if to say, "So, what's next?"

He never looked back.  At me.

I was hoping that Sofia would keep me grounded this day.  I wasn't sure of my reactions.  An unsuccessful match in February send LD Mike back to Leader Dogs in March and my emotions felt like they had been on a Mac Woods Dune ride--the thrill of dieseling up and over the crest of a colossal sand dune only to leave my stomach behind on the weightless descent left my mind scratchy with sand.  I wasn't eager to jump back aboard.


  • What would I feel when I saw this puppy that I had raised for almost a year?
It was important not to jeopardize the budding relationship between LD Mike and Eric, so I did not want the exuberant-body-twisting, tongue-lapping-Lab greeting like Rosie gave me last year when she was career-changed.  But I cannot lie--I hoped he would at least recognize me.

  • How would Eric accept me; what questions would he have of me?
Eric hailed from Barcelona, Spain and could not speak English.  We would have a translator, but I wondered how we would fill our one-hour meeting.  Leader Dogs encourages puppy-raisers to give the handler photographs of our year with the puppy.  I assembled an album from digital pictures on my computer and hoped the Spanish titles translated correctly.  (Did you know that Microsoft Word has a translation function?)  I also brought LD Mike a new dinosaur-shaped Nylabone.

  • What could I say to Eric?
Again, I didn't want to do or say anything that would cause Eric to question his pairing with LD Mike.  I knew that if Leader Dogs was confident that LD Mike was right for Eric, then I must also be confident.


A group of puppy-raisers and family members were gathered in the lobby of the Polk Residence at Leader Dogs, where the handlers stay during their 3 1/2 weeks of training.  Sofia and I were the last to arrive.  Bev, from Puppy-Development, gave last minute instructions before we were taken to meet the handlers, all of whom had agreed to meet the puppy-raisers of their newly matched Leader Dogs.

Eric and Mike, another Spanish handler with her yellow Lab Leader Dog, and two translators were staged in the piano-room lounge.  Sofia and I stood in the hallway waiting to be introduced.  "Look," she said, "there's Mike.  He's staring right at us!"

A dark-haired, handsome young man dressed in blue-jeans and an "arty" long-sleeved t-shirt sat on the edge of a black leather couch talking to a woman seated next to him.  A black Lab lay facing us at his feet, on leash, not in harness.

Eric and LD Mike.

The next few moments were a blur.  We were led in and Eric popped to his feet.  LD Mike sprang up next to him, and the woman, who turned out to be the interpreter, stepped forward and asked us our names.  Before I could answer, Eric reached out, I reached out in a mirror-image response, thinking we were going to shake hands.  His hand bumped my arm and suddenly, unexpectedly, LD Mike's leash was in my hand.  Eric took a step back.

Oh no!  I exclaimed.  Please, I said to the woman, Tell him I should not have his leash.  Mike is HIS dog.

The translator spoke to Eric in Spanish and quickly returned Mike's leash to him.  It was an awkward moment.  A flurry of "holas," "hellos," and chair procurement followed and then Sofia and I were seated next to a stiff-on-the-edge-of-the-couch Eric.  The translator sat on a straight-back chair across from us.  LD Mike was on all fours next to Eric, straining to get a sniff of the other Leader Dog who was sprawled out on the floor just beyond his nose.

"Mike, NO," Eric said (in English).  He  tapped his hand on his thigh and gave a little tug on Mike's leash.  Mike turned.

After about ten minutes of tentative questions and short replies between the triangle of Eric, the translator, and me, the prospect of another fifty-minutes seemed interminable.  I offered up the photo album.  Eric's face exploded with delight as the translator described, page by page, the pictures of puppy-Mike's growing up adventures.  I hope the titles are okay, I told her.  She smiled at me and said they were just fine.

I offered up the Nylabone.  Eric thanked me, opened the packaging right away, and LD Mike stole it out of his hands.  Eric laughed heartily when the translator told him how Mike set about chewing off the dinosaur's head.

Maybe it was the photo album (Eric never set it down).  Maybe it was the Nylabone.  Whatever it was, Eric slid back into the couch and began talking.  He talked and talked to the woman, who translated everything back to me.

I learned that Eric's 21st birthday is one day after Mike's birthday, and that there will be a gigantic party in Barcelona this September.  I learned that Mike was the oldest Leader Dog in this month's class, and Eric was the youngest student.  Mike is Eric's first Leader Dog and this was Eric's first time to the U.S.  Eric came here to Leader Dogs for the Blind instead of going to "ONCE" (the guide dog school in Spain) because it was only an 18 month wait instead of four years.  I told Eric that he was brave to come to the United States by himself to get his first guide dog.

Eric lives with his parents (they do not have a dog) and he has a sister; he attends a school that the translator said is like a Community College and studies Administration and Communication.  He also works two jobs--the translator struggled to explain, but said that one job is "like a waitress?" and the other is "massage?"  Eric laughed, saying "Si, si" when I told  him that he could relax Mike with a massage.  He also was amused with my story of FLD Mike snoring during a lecture in my Postmodern Literature class at Eastern Michigan University when he was just a few months old.

Eric knows that LD Mike did not match up with a previous person.  He thinks it might be because of how hard Mike pulls, but he (Eric) is strong, and is very excited, and happy, to have Mike as a partner.

Fifty minutes flew by.  My face hurt from smiling.


Eric wanted to know if it was easy for me to train Mike.


He also wanted to know if I taught Mike to find things.  When Eric drops something, he has trouble finding it.  Mike has been finding whatever it is for him, placing his chin on the item until Eric can feel along him and locate it under Mike's chin.


Eric leaned forward and talked with animation to the translator.

"Eric says that he asked Mike's trainer if she taught Mike to do this, but she said she did not.  She thought that perhaps you did."

No, I said, shaking my head.  I never taught him that.  Maybe Mike is just figuring out how to help you.  We all settled.  And smiled.  Could this be possible?  I, for one, would not be surprised.  At all.


It seemed as if the match between LD Mike and Eric was meant to be.  Sofia thought that maybe Leader Dogs should consider matching by birthdays--"After all, remember that Rosie's birthday is the same day we moved into Mom's house."  (To read about how career-changed Rosie found Sofia, read my post from April 5, 2010.) 

I was pleased when Eric asked for my contact information.  When I asked if we could take a few pictures he jumped right up to get LD Mike situated.  Then he asked if I would send him copies.  YES!

Our "adios" and "good-byes" felt as awkward as our "holas" and "hellos," but for different reasons.  Eric thanked me for Mike and it was all I could do not to grab him (Eric, not Mike) and give him a huge hug!  I was surprised to feel a mother's instinct and pride.  Instead, I reached out, gave his shoulder a squeeze, thanked him for meeting with us, and wished him all the best with LD Mike. 

Strangers frequently say, "I could never do what you do, raise a puppy like that.  I would get too attached and could never give him up."  I struggle to reply, sometimes saying, It's not what I'm giving up, it's what I'm giving.  And besides, I can always get another puppy!  Or I say, It IS difficult, but you just do it and know he'll go on to help someone.

I will struggle with this answer no longer.

Without hesitation I can easily reply, If you saw the joy that a new Leader Dog brings to a person, YOU could do it too!

Sofia reaffirmed this when she said, "Anyone could see how HAPPY Eric was to have Mike!  I think they were meant to be together!"


The dog I saw with Eric was no longer MY puppy, FLD Mike.  At some point in our hour I asked Eric if we could pet Mike.  "Of course!"  Mike came to us, sniffed, and let us pet him, but, as Bev observed, it was like he was thinking, "Okay, hi, that's nice.  Now, where's that chew toy?"  LD Mike was a dog who graduated from a challenging training program, encountered a detour, backed up, resumed, and still decided to go on to lead an exceptional life

Leader Dogs for the Blind is the catalyst for the change occurring in LD Mike and Eric.  Like the definition of REACTION in chemistry, the guide dog and the human are combining to form a working team.

LD Mike found his person.  He is Eric's dog (eyes) now!

Eric and LD Mike, with me.
A happy Eric, LD Mike, me, and Sofia!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday's Training TIP: MANIAC PULLER!


Gypsy starts whining when we turn into Jen and Jeff’s subdivision off 17 Mile Road.  FLD Gus sits up so fast from where he was laying at my feet I’m surprised he doesn’t bonk his head on the dashboard.  The excitement begins.

Jen and Jeff have two German Shorthair Pointers, Gauge and Odo although Jen is the reason Gypsy goes berserk-o when we visit.  Gus keys in to Gypsy, but he is also remembers Gauge and Odo’s game “see-if-you-can-catch-me-racing-around-the-big-fat-tree.”

Gus.  OFF, I command as Gus stands up with his front paws on my lap, panting and whipping his head to see out the windshield when we pull into their driveway.

He slides back down and then lurches forward when I clip on his leash.  Gus, wait.

I get out of the van first and make him sit for a few moments, even when Andy lets Gypsy rocket out of the sliding side door.

Ok, let’s go, I say and Gus tries to rocket after her.  I yell after Andy, I’ll be about 10 or 15 minutes, and turn to take try to take control of the 55+ pound bundle of maniac-adolescent Lab writhing at the end of the leash.

Gus, heel.  Gus digs his paws into the spring turf and almost takes me off my feet.  GUS!  NO!

Gypsy stands barking at the gate.  Gauge and Odo erupt out the patio door and leap off the back deck.  Name recognition, finger-pokes, even leash corrections don’t get through Gus’s thick skull during this impossible-to-ignore frenzy.  I woman-handle him to the sidewalk (Gus, heel!) and start try to walk east toward the corner at the end of the block.  I’ll pull out all the tricks in the book and if Gus thinks he’s going to “win” this one, he’s wrong.


One house away I command, Gus, SIT.  He is straining to turn back to Jen’s house; I physically put him into a SIT.  I say his name; after an insistent poke to the side of his neck, Gus whips his head in my direction but I only see the whites of his eyes as he strains to look back.  I immediately command, Gus, HEEL, and start walking.  Gus feels like a strutting stallion with a passion for a corral full of mares, but I am determined to get his attention.

I stop twice in front of each house to work different commands.  SIT.  DOWN.  SIT.  STAND.  By the time I reach the corner four houses away, Gus sits but is agitated and won’t focus on me.  I turn west and say, Gus, heel.  He blasts off.  I am ready and immediately take a few steps backwards; Gus corrects himself with his intensity and twirls back to my side.


I walk backwards one sidewalk square for every two squares I walk forwards.  Progress.  I work Gus like this back to Jen’s, pausing as before to interject commands.  Gus starts to feign attention on me as we get closer.  He is in for a surprise.  I don’t turn up Jen’s driveway, where Gauge, Odo, and Gypsy are stirred up at the fence.  Nope.  I walk right on by.

Gus wants none of this!  He leaps in front of me with a whine.  I push him back into heel position and keep going.  Two houses later he starts to figure out that I am serious and sort of settles into an “Okay, I’m trying to control myself” heel.  Good boy, Gus!  He glances at me and I pick up the pace and pat my left leg.  What a good boy you are to heel with me away from the other dogs!  At the third house I stop.  Gus sits on command.  I slip him a treat.  Good boy!

Gus, heel.  We turn east.  Gus prances forward.  I step backwards.  Again.  One sidewalk square backwards to two sidewalk squares forwards.  We eventually reach Jen’s driveway; I prevent Gus from lunging and we continue in the same manner as before.  Heel.  Stop and SIT.  Heel.  Stop and DOWN…at this command Gus cannot contain himself any longer.  He lets out a yip and launches.  I restrain him with the leash but then he’s on his hind legs, scratching my side with his front paws, whining in frustration.  NO!  I place him into the down position, step on the leash to prevent another launch, and take a few moments to settle myself.  Oh how I love teen-age puppies!  Gus is DEFINITELY not going to win THIS battle!


When I’m calm, we begin anew.  Gus, heel.  He looks at me as if he’s thinking, “Boy, she IS serious,” and we manage to reach the corner without any more drastic reactions.  When I turn west, we are still on the one-sidewalk-square-backwards-to-two-sidewalk-squares-forwards pace, but now Gus looks at me when I say his name (treat) and sits on command (treat).  His “down” is slow (I count out three seconds), but I think the battle has turned.

I heel Gus past Jen’s house again, with less argument.  We take another full lap west and east back to the corner.  I don’t worry about what Jen’s neighbor’s think, I’m finally making headway.

On our return, Gus’s attention on me is so much better he holds a DOWN-STAY while I walk completely around him.  His head spins to follow me like Linda Blair’s in the movie the Exorcist!  I feel like I’ve finally exorcized his adolescent-demon and NOW I am inclined to allow him to join the other dogs in play.


It takes us a few more minutes to heel to the gate, with a moderate amount of backwards walking.  Gus, sit.  Gus holds his sit while I open the gate.  I am glad that Andy brought the other dogs inside so the distraction level is not as difficult as it was before.

OK!  I release Gus and at last he gets to rocket into the yard.  Andy lets the other dogs out and the mayhem ensues.

Before we leave I let the pups inside.  The play continues.  Gus, I call loudly, and am pleased when Gus disengages with the mass of dogs in the hall leading to the bedrooms.  Gus, sit, I say and give him a treat when he complies.  Good boy, Gus!  I clip on his leash.  Gus, settle.  He slides into a down and holds position while we say our good-byes.  As we exit, Gus heels nicely at my side and does not rocket to the van.

FLD Gus is a tired puppy and—you know, don’t you?—a good puppy!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Welcome FLD Ellis!

Congratulations to fellow-puppy-raiser Margaret (who gallantly watched FLD Gus for me last month, see my post from March 11, 2011).  Margaret raised Claire, a yellow lab from the same litter as my last Leader Dog puppy.  Claire is now a working Leader Dog and will be featured in the next issue of Leader Dogs' Update magazine.

Margaret picked up her new puppy yesterday from Leader Dogs for the Blind.  Ellis is the only yellow lab out of a litter of six (the rest were black).  She weighed in at a fine 9.6 pounds!

The fun news is that Ellis's mom is Sienna---FLD Gus's mom.  So Gus and Ellis are half-siblings!

Welcome, Ellis!  We look forward to watching you in your journey to become a Leader Dog.  And thank you, Margaret, for once again taking on the job.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

FLD Gus Goes to E Tawas

I suppose I needn't worry about FLD Gus getting traffic experience, even though we now live in the country.  He travels back to the Detroit Metropolitan area at least twice a month, and yesterday he came with us to the big town of East Tawas.  We needed tires for our S10 pickup.

While the mechanics at the Timmy Tire Center installed our new rubber, we took a walk down US-23 to "Patti's Kountry Kitchen" for lunch.  (My BLT on texas toast was yummy!)  FLD Gus was warmly welcomed.

Here is a short video of our trip (mostly how well Gus did heeling on the shoulder of US-23).


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday's Training TIP: THUNDER!

Early Sunday morning.

First we hear rain battering overhead, and I am glad for our leak-free roof.  Then, strobe-like flashes outline our bedroom window where the blind does not touch the knotty-pine frame.


Yahoo, that was close. 

The wind-driven rain now slaps against the windowpane, and I am glad our house sits atop a hill, away from the old groaning hardwoods.  A sound and safe house I am glad for, but still, snuggling closer to Andy during a spring thunder-buster is a joy!


I hear FLD Gus squeak in his crate in the living room.  Guess I'm getting up.  Great.  I know that Gypsy will do her business quickly and hightail it back inside, but Gus never lets a little rain bother his nosy investigations around the yard.  I hook him to my 15' lead and stand in the relative refuge of the back man-door of the garage.

Gus. Park, I command and am pleased when Gus heads right out and crouches into his still-puppy-like...


Gus leaps up in mid-park, bolts in an arc to the end of the lead, circles, and darts behind me into the garage.  Before I can react, he trots back outside to finish his park; he sniffs, takes a few steps, parks his other duty, and returns as if nothing untoward has occurred.

Good boy, Gus! I exclaim, before he shakes rain all over me.

I don't think this was his first experience with thunder, but it must have been many months ago; certainly he never got blasted in the middle of a "park!"  In any case, I am delighted that in spite of startling, Gus immediately shook it off.  Subsequent thunder cracks didn't bother him at all.

Why not?  Partly his speedy recovery had to do with my non-reaction (although I admit to an inadvertent giggle), partly with his "scary-smart" ability to quickly assess the situation and determine that the thunder posed no harm.  His need to finish parking probably didn't hurt either!



The best thing to do if your puppy is suddenly startled by thunder is to act as if nothing unusual has happened.  Continue with what you were doing, distract your puppy with a command such as SIT, or excite your puppy into chasing you or playing.

YOUR initial reaction will set the stage for how your puppy reacts, now and later.

If your puppy exhibits nervousness or stress over a storm, do NOT "baby" your puppy.  Coddling and petting your puppy when he or she is scared will only encourage the scared behavior to continue, and the nervous behavior may escalate in the future.

  • If your puppy's behavior is mild, continue to ignore the behavior.
  • Engage your puppy with play or obedience commands to take his or her mind off of the storm.

  • Try overriding the noise of the storm with a radio, television, fan, or other "white noise."
  • Provide a "hiding" spot where your puppy feels safe.  This can be under a table, behind the couch, or even in his or her crate.  Leave your puppy be and go about your normal routines.
  • Don't reprimand your puppy if he or she has an accident because of stress.  Just clean it up.  (Again, don't "comfort" your puppy.)

  • Some people have success using Rescue Remedy for Dogs, a natural Bach Flower essence administered orally by drops.  For more information, check out their website:
  • A relatively new product is the "Thundershirt," a comfortable body wrap that exerts constant pressure on a dog's torso.  There is some evidence that this pressure provides a calming effect on the nervous system.  Go to the Thundershirt website,, for information about the product and a range of training suggestions for general and specific anxiety issues, shyness, problem barking, and introducing a new dog.

Luckily, I have never had a puppy or dog that exhibited stress during thunderstorms.  Perhaps it is because I enjoy thunder and lightning and my pups learn from me!
Special thanks to my puppy-counselor, Nance, for sending the puppy-raisers in her group information on what she calls "Thunderphobia!"

Monday, April 11, 2011


Ten days before the girls came to visit, I cross-country skied through our woods and into the Rifle River Recreation Area.

Last Thursday, the girls and I hiked through wakening woods where snow was visibly melting, yet still-frozen lakes were not to be trusted.

Frozen Lodge Lake.

Come along...


At the base of this tree were so many large wood shavings, I wondered if Andy had been whittling here.  Not so.

These holes are the handiwork of the Pileated Woodpecker!

This woodpecker is almost as large as a crow.

Pileated Woodpecker at work.

Woodpeckers aren't the only industrious creatures in our forests...witness the work of a beaver!

A tree, cut down by a beaver.

We are not sure what caused this tree to grow so crooked.

An old crooked tree.


About a mile and a half jaunt from our back door is a three-story observation tower overlooking Grebe Lake.  The open wooden stairs are a training opportunity for FLD Gus, who was anxious to follow the girls up to the top.

Looking down through the tower staircase. (photo by Sofia)

FLD Gus, calm at the top.  (Gypsy, not so much.)

Gypsy wasn't too sure about the stairs, but when her annoying barking didn't bring us down to throw her stick, she finally decided to join us.

Gypsy, barking at us from below.

Here we rested, and relished the sunshine and spectacular view.

Tallest pine.
LOOK!  An eagle's nest in the tallest pine, just across the slush-frozen water. 

Take a closer look...

An eagle in its nest!


Natalie, caught throwing rocks onto the frozen lake from the top of the tower.

Sofia, looking for rocks.  "Come on up!"

Big-sister Elaina, keeping all of us in line.

On the sunny-side, the trail was free of snow and ice.

"Queen" Natalie, hoofing it in the sun.

But where hills obstructed, evidence of my birth-day-ski lingered.

My ski tracks are melting!!!

FLD Gus wasn't the only one dog-tired when we got home!

FLD Gus, one tired puppy.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

FLD Gus at the Library

Andy and I do a lot of reading now.  Well, even more reading than we did before our move north.

The only way to get more than two local television channels here is to pay for satellite TV (can't get cable).  Not interested, so we enjoy quiet evenings.  I curl up on the couch under my mom's hand-made afghan with a book.  If I'm lucky, I even get a foot-massage from Andy, who relaxes with his own book (or Kindle) at the other end.  And at our bare-bones townhouse (when commitments bring us downstate) there is no cable, no Internet.  We read.

Our trip south last week was short--down on Monday morning, home by Wednesday afternoon (on-spring-break nieces in tow).


Monday evening after dinner Andy said, "Let's go to the library.  I need some new books."

Yippee!  One of our favorite "dates."  Book browsing.

I hustled FLD Gus (and Gypsy, our van-guard) out to "park."  The busy main branch of the Clinton-Macomb Library offers excellent training opportunities for a Future Leader Dog puppy:  two sets of automatic sliding glass doors at the entrance, shiny floors next to carpeted floors inside, a gargantuan revolving globe that hovers over a sparkly granite staircase, and a kid's section upstairs with statues--and real kids!

FLD Gus practiced SIT, DOWN, and STAY as I browsed the Fiction section for Jane Austen's  book, Persuasion.  I have to admit that I don't remember ever reading Austen and after watching The Jane Austen Book Club DVD on a good friend's recommendation, I felt it was time that I did.  (I selected Persuasion for much the same reason the movie character "Grigg" was accused--it is Austen's shortest novel!)

Persuasion in hand, it was time for me to "work" FLD Gus up the wide staircase.  At the base of the first of two flights I said, Gus. Sit.  Leader Dogs for the Blind advises puppy-raisers to have our puppies SIT before stairs in order to bring their distract-able attention to us.

FLD Gus sat and immediately stretched his nose to sniff the first step.  Gus, leave it, I said, then began our ascent with, Gus, heel.  At almost every step an invisibly delicious-smelling something drew his sniffer--he cared not a whit about the slipperiness of his footing, or the groaning globe looming above the landing.  He sat again before the next flight, after my command and a finger-poke to refresh his attention.  Upward...

I paused before the top step, a quick restraint until FLD Gus accepted slack in the leash.


"Is that Gus?!"

FLD Gus stepped up to the carpeted second floor on a loose leash, but instantly jerked toward the librarian waiting for us.  I stopped, and took a (very) short step backwards; Gus got a move on back to my left side.  Gus, sit.

Yes, I finally replied, comfortable with Gus sitting calmly.

"He has gotten so BIG!" She said.  "He was SO little that time I saw him trying to come down those stairs!"

I was surprised that she remembered FLD Gus from his first trip to the library last September, only five days after I brought him home from Leader Dogs.  He had done a fair job coming up the steps to the second floor, but was nervous coming down, so I sat on a step below him to encourage him with my wiggling fingers.  The librarian spotted us from her station behind the first-floor information desk, clattered up the stairs in her high-heels to see the cute little guy up close, and sat on the steps (in spite of wearing a fashionable skirt) to chat with us.

Yes, he certainly is!  I agreed.  And stairs aren't nearly so scary to him anymore.