Feedback is always important...so let me know whatchya' think. Leave a comment!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Wishes

FLD Gus takes a moment from our  family picnic to remember those who have served.

Have a safe and memorable holiday!


And a very happy birthday to my sweetie, Andy!
(He's gone fishing.)

Two fisherman, on the AuSable River.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

FLD Gus Meets Holiday Traffic--in the Woods!

I pinch myself every time I head out the back door, hike our "patch," and a half-mile later pick up the Rifle River Recreation Area ski trail at marker #6.

The woods are bursting green now, an incredible neon green I can barely reconcile as the same woods I slipped through on my skinny boards only two months ago.

Our leafed-out woods--in green!

FLD Gus, replete with blue Future Leader Dog bandana, heels nicely at my side; we scrabble up a sharp hill to the trail marker (#8) posted on Ridge Road and turn right.  I plan to cut along Ridge Road to marker #5 where we can pick up the trail to head home.

FLD Gus perks up at a machine noise ahead.

Ridge Road is a one-way dirt access road (not plowed in the winter) that weaves between Lodge and Grebe Lakes.  We're not used to coming across cars here, yet that is exactly what bounces toward us.

I step off the narrow road; there is no room for the car to pass unless I do.  FLD Gus, however, stands tall in the middle as if to challenge the presence of this motorized imposition.  Gus.  Come, I command to get him out of the way.  He huffs back over his shoulder at the vehicle when we continue.

A few steps later and here comes a four-wheel-drive pickup truck with a young red-cheeked, blond-headed girl hanging on in the open bed.  She waves timidly at us.  Hi, I say and again step aside.  FLD Gus follows quickly this time, but hauls hard in their direction when they pass.  Before we can get on our way, a second pickup rounds the bend.

In less than one minute we've seen more cars here than we've seen since December!

FLD Gus puffs and pulls.  I imagine he's thinking, "Let me at 'em!  I'll chase them off our road!"   Or perhaps that's just what I'm thinking, this Saturday morning of the Memorial holiday.

Ahhhh, our first taste of summertime weekends.


FLD Gus at trail marker #5, eager to get off Ridge Road and back into the woods!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Gardener Gus?

A Gardener's Fable

Once upon a time, a city puppy-raiser moved to the north country with her husband and dog, and "scary-smart" Future Leader Dog (FLD) puppy.

Their house-on-a-hill was surrounded by gardens planted by the previous owners, but the puppy-raiser paid no attention (at first).  It was winter, the yard mounded with snow.

When spring puddled in, the puppy-raiser started to notice things poking their way out of the earth.  She was not a gardener, oh no, but found an interest in what might emerge.  Trips to the city drew her away for days at a time, so the grounds appeared to her as time-lapse photography.  One return home revealed crocus blooming sunny-bright by the porch-step; another return red tulips tempted ruby-throated hummingbirds; another brought the aromatic bliss of lilacs.

On an almost-level spot in the backyard, a neglected 30' x 50' vegetable plot began to sprout hard onions, turnip greens, irises, asparagus...and weeds.  The tenacity of this vegetation attracted the puppy-raiser.

One sunny morning, the puppy-raiser decided to hoe the weed-festered garden, even though she had no prior experience.  She took her FLD puppy out with her, foregoing their usual walk.

Now this puppy-raiser knew that the "scary-smart" puppy watched her and frequently tried to duplicate whatever it was that she was doing.  For instance, earlier in the spring while she cleared a new trail in her woods, the FLD puppy followed along, observing her cutting and tossing aside ill-placed seedlings.  Very soon the FLD puppy grabbed hold of a sapling, anchored his four paws in the leaf-covered floor of the forest, and yanked with all his Labrador might.  He tugged and jerked and worked at that sapling until it finally gave way, roots and all.  With the tree hanging out of his mouth, the FLD puppy looked up at the puppy-raiser as if to say, "See, I can help!"

The puppy-raiser knew this about the FLD puppy, but it was such a wonderful morning, and she really wanted the company of the silly black Lab.

So...

The puppy-raiser, with her scary-smart FLD puppy, went out to the weedy garden to play and proceeded to hoe.  She chopped at the weeds around the asparagus, which had grown so quickly it was already ferning (a term she learned by Googling "growing asparagus").

The FLD puppy studied the puppy-raiser with her new-fangled tool and decided to help, but instead of pulling out weeds he nabbed the nearest stalk of asparagus and ripped it apart.

The asparagus stalk ravaged by FLD Gus.

"Oh no!" exclaimed the puppy-raiser, realizing her mistake.  She tied the FLD puppy to the woodshed next to a gnarly old oak, safely out of reach, and returned to her hoeing.

She hoed and hoed.  Up one side of the asparagus row and down the other.

Freshly hoed garden row, turnip greens and asparagus.

The puppy-raiser paused, swabbed her forehead with her sleeve, and looked up at the FLD puppy tied to the woodshed.  He sat in the shade of the tree looking back at her.  Abruptly, he leapt up and proceeded to dig furiously; dirt and rocks and sand spewed between his hind legs against the craggy bark of the old oak tree.

"No!" yelled the puppy-raiser.  The FLD puppy glanced up from his digging, his tongue draped to the side.  His expression, to the puppy-raiser, seemed to mean, "Well, if you don't want me yanking things out, I can DIG!"

Hoeing was done (at least for now).  The puppy-raiser took the FLD puppy for a walk in the woods instead. 


MORAL OF THE STORY:  Never garden with a scary-smart puppy around.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday's Training TIP: Puppy Group Meetings

FLD Gus and I take advantage of every puppy group meeting we can.  Working your puppy with other dogs around is a great way to socialize your puppy, and teach him to pay attention to YOU instead of distracting doggies.

On Saturday, May 14, FLD Gus and I drove to Sault Ste. Marie, MI with puppy-counselor Tammy and FLD Kepler to meet with a group of eastern UP (Upper Peninsula, for you non-Michiganders) puppy-raisers (plus one from Ontario, Canada).

Our UP Puppy Group posing in the Antlers Restaurant banquet room:  Gary and FLD Liberty, Mary and FLD Toby, Frank and FLD Stoli, Leah and FLD Austin, me and FLD Gus, Tammy and FLD Kepler, Dave, Paula and FLD Alphie.

Prior to our group meeting, nine of us (and seven FLDs) had lunch at the Antlers Restaurant, which in itself is a great socialization experience for the pups.  Most of the puppies were more interested in the live dogs entering the dining room than the menacing stuffed wolf lunging from the corner.

FLD Gus ignores the stuffed wolf.

FLD Gus under the table, trying to ignore FLD Alphie.
If you've never been to the Antlers, it is worth the trip.  Great food, excellent staff, and...they allow Future Leader Dog puppies!

After a lively lunch (I highly recommend the pecan-encrusted Lake Superior Whitefish) we met at the Eastern UP Intermediate School District (EUPISD) building, thanks to the mother of puppy-raiser Katia (with FLD Atlas, a sweetheart German Shepherd).  Katia's mom is the director of Special Education for the Eastern UP.  Here we practiced recalls, "mat" coupled with a door-knocking distraction, and "meet and greets" with each other inside.  

Katia and an alert FLD Atlas.

The morning rain gave way to blue skies, so we ventured out to the parking lot for some loose-leash heeling over various surfaces, interspersed with commands such as "sit" and "down."  The squirrel on a fishing pole and the whirling skunk tail tested the puppies, but they all did well.  Tammy also brought her agility tunnel to demonstrate how running through an obstacle can build a puppy's confidence.

FLD Gus avoids lunging at the squirrel distraction!

A calm FLD Gus in the EUPISD parking lot.

Both FLD Gus and FLD Kepler crapped out in the van on the drive home.  A tired puppy is a good puppy.  (Tired of me repeating that yet again?)



TIPS TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR PUPPY GROUP MEETING

  • Ask questions and share concerns.  Your puppy counselor is here to help you!
  • Don't permit your puppy to play with the other puppies.  I felt bad the first time I attended a group outing and my eight-week-old FLD Rosie couldn't play with the other puppies, but if the puppies can't interact right from the get-go, then that is what they will learn.  Working vests or bandanas ON = NO PLAY.
  • Tire out your puppy prior to the meeting.  If you don't have time to walk your puppy before your puppy group meeting, try a few minutes of obedience work for mental stimulation.  Our long drive to the Soo (Sault Ste. Marie) made it difficult to exercise Gus and Kepler before the group meeting, but Tammy and I practiced loose-leash heeling and a few "sits" and "downs" when we took them to "park" before entering the Antlers; controlling themselves during lunch also helped to take the edge off.
  • Socializing is for the puppies' benefit, not ours, so pay attention to your puppy's behavior.  Group meetings can be helpful in diagnosing issues and problems with your puppy counselor and peers, but only if your puppy is settled and calm.
  • Take what you've learned at your group meeting and practice on your own at home.  Your puppy needs consistency!


Attending puppy group meetings can help you with raising your puppy--and they are fun, too.  Just ask FLD Gus.  And if you want to join us in the Soo sometime, let me know!  We're more than happy to have you.

FLD Gus squinting his way through the tunnel.  I think I can, I think I can!

Monday, May 23, 2011

FLD Gus Survives Soccer Game Silliness

Saturday, May 21, 2011

STILL MORE WORK TO DO

Natalie dashed off from the car, kicking her soccer ball up and over the grass berm that surrounds the Warren Community Center soccer fields.  FLD Gus and I attempted to follow at a more controlled pace.  

As we topped the rise, Gus saw the neon-orange jerseys of the Cheeto-Crushers warming up in the far field and let me know that, in spite of taking time to taste-test the long, damp grass (and occasional dandelion), he was eager to reach the U10 (under 10-years-old) team.

I wasn't having any of that.  We had plenty of time before the start-whistle to work on loose-leash-heeling; we backwards-walked almost all the way.

Coach Corey


"Is that a new dog?" Coach Corey asked as we finally circled behind the near goal.  He was running drills with the Crushers, his orange-tinted hair glowing in the unexpectedly warm Saturday morning sun.




N-n-n-no, I stammered, startled.  I had already responded to the "Oh my gosh is that Gus? He has really grown!" comments at Nat's Monday night game over two weeks ago.  (The Cheeto-Crushers first met FLD Gus last fall when he was just a tiny pup.)

Nat and a much-younger FLD Gus at a game last fall.

"I just wondered," he said.  "That one is pulling more than usual." 

I was embarrassed.  Yep.  Gotta love adolescence!  (Sound familiar?)

Once situated on the sideline, FLD Gus settled nicely at my side.  The Cheeto-Crushers did a good job adoring him without petting him--this is one group of kids (and parents) who will know what to do when they encounter a handler with his or her Leader Dog.

FLD Gus, ready to watch the game.


POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT

The brilliant sun continued to warm things up as orange and blue jerseys matched up and took the field.  At the opening kick, Coach Corey called all parents into a huddle.

Sports can build confidence and teach youngsters a lot about fair play, teamwork, and the pure joy of physical activity, but if you've ever attended an organized sporting event for kids, you might have been dismayed at the obnoxious behavior of some sideline parents.  Organized sports can also damage a young person's self-esteem. 

Not so for the Cheeto-Crunchers, thanks to Coach Corey.

"I've got enough Silly String for each of you," Corey said.  "Be ready to squirt them at the end of the game."  Everyone grabbed a can and started back to their chairs, but he wasn't through with us yet. 

"I think it is important that the girls know YOU are paying attention to them, not just me.  So.  You will also give a can to your daughter, AFTER you tell her one fantastic thing you saw her do on the field."

"Alright!" someone exclaimed.  During the game I heard parents (and Coach Corey) applauding any outstanding move, even if completed by the opposing players.  Nice.


MEANWHILE 

By the first water break, FLD Gus had scooched his way around behind my chair to find a spot of shade.  Smart puppy.

It is hard to be a black Lab on a hot, sunny Saturday morning.  FLD Gus finds some shade.

The Cheeto-Crushers kept their opponents scoreless, and after six or seven of their own goals, Coach Corey instructed his forwards to stay behind the mid-field line to give the other team a break. 

When the ref blew the end-of-game whistle, parents jumped up to form a congratulatory tunnel.  The two teams slapped hands at mid-field and charged through, Cheeto-Crushers met with blasts of Silly String.

Natalie and fellow Cheeto-Chrushers getting blasted with Silly String.

 FLD Gus remained calm during the flurry.

FLD Gus isn't sure what to think about being covered in Silly String, but, he is still relaxed and calm.


WHAT I TOLD NATALIE

Watching these young girls over the years develop into coordinated athletes is thrilling. 


I whispered, You were the only player on the field waving your arms to let your teammates know when you were open.  You have a great sense of the flow of the game and fantastic anticipation--like when their goalie threw the ball out, you got it more often than they did.  When you take off with the ball, WOW, it's like you have afterburners!

Natalie, in control of the ball and directing play.

I had a hard time keeping to just one thing.

Oh...and great goals!  It was so cool when you were on defense and took the ball from your goal all the way down the field and scored!  (She scored twice.)

With a grin to melt your heart, Natalie snatched her can of Silly String and joined her teammates in the fracas.



WHAT I TOLD FLD GUS

Good boy, Gus!  And brushed off Silly String residue.

FLD Gus covered in Silly String and putting up with the fun!
 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Too Smart?

When your puppy learns by watching, it pays to think ahead.

"Forest" Gus would love to hang out with me while I plant 100 White Pine seedlings, 10 Red Osier Dogwood trees, and five Rosa Rugosa (a wild rose bush).  Gotta love the Oscoda County Conservation District Spring Tree Sale!

But.

I'm sure that after watching me dig only a few holes....LIGHT BULB blast above his head!

"I have big paws, I can help!"

We don't need uncontrolled hole digging.

"Forest" Gus gets crated.


"Forest" Gus helps me clear a trail.


Puppy Update: FLD Gus

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Leader Dogs for the Blind, puppy-class weigh-in:
FLD Gus -- 61 pounds!


CLASS REPORT


THE GOOD
  • FLD Gus knows "mat" pretty well; goes to it on command at least 80% of the time (especially at home, 100% of the time before mealtimes).
  • By going to the mat in class, FLD Gus demonstrates that he is starting to "generalize" with this command. (Go to my Definitions page for more on "generalization.")

THE BAD
  • FLD Gus did not "stay" on the mat in class the first time Sam knocked on the door.  I put him back, then he stayed the second time.

THE UGLY
  • FLD Gus peed on the scale before class--second class in a row (in spite of a prolonged "park" prior to class).
  • FLD Gus peed in class while walking during loose-leash heeling--second class in a row.


Gotta just love these adolescent, "intact" male Labs!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday's Training TIP: More on LOOSE-LEASH HEELING


Sharon Waschler is a published author and dog enthusiast who trains her own service dogs.  Recently, a post by Sharon on her blog, After Gadget, about loose-leash heeling caught my attention.

She was frustrated with Barnum, her current service-dog-in-training--he pulled on his leash.  Sharon has helpers who walk Barnum and each of them reported that he was "fine" on-leash with them.  Unable to reconcile this, Sharon observed her walkers and discovered that Barnum was, indeed, pulling.  Because he was not lunging at things, her walkers thought his behavior was acceptable.  With a bit of coaching, her walkers matched their methods with hers, and Barnum is improving.


The loose-leash method of training that Leader Dogs for the Blind requires of all its puppy-raisers, volunteer dog-walkers, and trainers should really be called "backwards walking."  Whenever the leash has ANY tension whatsoever, you walk backwards at the same speed at which you were walking forwards until your puppy looks at you. The theory is that your puppy will soon figure out that he will not get where he wants to go unless his leash is loose.

(For more about loose-leash heeling, read my posts from July 27, 2010 and April 19, 2011.)

This is a good theory.  In practice, at least in my experience, my puppy learns that when I walk backwards it is time to high-tail it back to my left side.  As soon as we return to walking forwards, it is totally okay (in his puppy-mind) to have a little tension on the leash.

Arrggghhh!

Admittedly, "backwards walking" is a hard-learned skill that improves with experience, practice, and consistency.  And I mean a skill that is learned by the puppy-raiser  (me) who is attempting to teach this to her puppy!  I don't think that each of my three Future Leader Dog puppies have been "better than the one before."  With time, and some effort, MY proficiency is developing.

Yet.  FLD Gus is nine-months-old and I'm frustrated with our stutter-stepping walks.  When I read Sharon's post ("A Loose Leash Walk"), I realized I had forgotten one important step.

Here are some HINTS, prompted by Sharon:
  • Walk backwards FURTHER.  Even though FLD Gus twirls around and hustles back to my side, his attention is forward.  As soon as we travel ahead, he reverts to tension, slight at it is, on the leash.
  • Walk backwards until your puppy LOOKS AT YOU.  I noticed that FLD Gus doesn't look at me when I reverse.  If he isn't straining to look ahead or at whatever is distracting him, he is looking down, NOT at me.  This is the important step I forgot!  I don't wait until he looks in my eyes before I continue forward.
  • Praise your puppy AS SOON AS HIS EYES MEET YOURS, and then go forward.  After several longgggg series of walking backwards, FLD Gus started to look up at me as if thinking, "Why are you still walking backwards?"
  • REPEAT as necessary, even if your projected 20-minute walk through the neighborhood only gets you to the corner and back!

Now that I am working with FLD Gus on loose-leash heeling this way, I see progress--it only takes one or two really long backwards walking before he looks up; as we continue, I find the need to back up is less.  FLD Gus decides to walk more easily before me, his leash draping looser at his shoulder.

YAY!  And thank you, Sharon, for reminding me just exactly what I need to do!

Monday, May 16, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "Izzy & Lenore"

Izzy & Lenore, Two Dogs, an Unexpected Journey, and Me

-Jon Katz
 2008, Random House, Inc., New York, New York
 ISBN: 978-4000-6630-8


But Not as Eloquently...

This past March, my husband Andy called me from home as I drove back from 10 days in the city, most of which were spent caring for my Mom as she recuperated from hip-replacement surgery.

"I've been reading Jon Katz's book, Izzy & Lenore," he said.  This was an unusual book choice for him; he typically enjoys vegging out before bed with a good spy novel.  "Well," he continued, "Katz is a good writer, and it's nice that he is a hospice volunteer, but he has nothing on my wife."

What? I asked.

"All the stuff you do.  And have done.  Raising Future Leader dog puppies.  Caring for your mom, and your nieces.  And look at your own volunteer work for hospice, massaging all those people.  You could write a book as good as Katz."

I pulled over because my eyes suddenly welled with tears.  I'd been feeling a bit guilty spending so much time away from Andy, caring for others.  He would never ask me not to, but I sensed that he wished I was more available.

I guess I was wrong.  How can I not love this guy who always comes through for me?

However, as far as book-writing goes I'm not so sure I can write so from-the-heart as Jon Katz does in his book, Izzy & Lenore.  Katz has written several books about his dogs and life on Bedlam Farm in upstate New York, but it is in this book that he shares his personal journey with depression.

Over the course of one year, Katz finds renewal from his newly-recognized mental illness through several avenues--his creativity with photography and writing; a reconnection with his older sister; his rescue of Izzy, a near-feral border collie who possesses an uncanny ability to comfort the dying; the entrance of Lenore, a well-bred, sweet black Lab puppy, who immediately begins to lift his mood.  And shares all with his reader.

Smiling down a this affectionate, attentive creature, I realized that getting Lenore was already lifting my fatigue, brightening my funk, reminding me why I was up here in the country, and what I loved. (78)

Katz renders his volunteer hospice visits with precise imagery.  His descriptions of hospital beds set up in living areas are consistent with my own hospice experiences.

Izzy surveyed the room, his gaze lighting on the hospital bed set up in the middle of the living room.  Also increasingly familiar: living rooms serving as convenient places for sick people, a space where they can be comforted and monitored by family, friends, doctors, nurses, and social workers.  It keeps them in the middle of the activity, not shut away, and provides easy access to kitchens and TVs. (114)

Izzy, and Lenore too, are remarkable examples of the connections we humans share with dogs.  There are things they sense, or seem to just "know."  Dog lovers, perhaps, will not be surprised at Izzy's skill in "reading" his hospice patients, consoling them with soft, furry doors into their memories.

Fans of Katz will want to read Izzy & Lenore to get a closer look at the man of Bedlam Farm.  Dog-lovers should read Izzy & Lenore for a compassionate perspective of the incredible bond we share with these amazing animals.


(And thank you, Andy, for loving me so!)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bad "Blogger"

Looks like the blogging world is returning to "normal."

"Blogger" says they are working on restoring posts that were posted but are now not...


I wonder if anyone other than bloggers using "Blogger" has noticed?



(In the meantime, I'll be back soon!)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tuesday's Training TIP: KEEP THAT NOSE UP

The dogwood are just beginning to bloom along our trail.

Ahhhh, spring is in the air.  And for a nine-month-old Labrador puppy, spring is on the ground, too.


An American Sparrow lifts off in surprise!

Maintaining a nice heel during a hike through springwoods with all the smells waking up is a challenge for FLD Gus.  His nose snorts along the ground, now and then twisting off the trail to catch a whiff of something I can't smell, but which lingers on a sprout of tree.
Name recognition, finger pokes, "leave its," even a quick leash snap when he jerks off to the side are strategies I employ to keep FLD Gus on task.  Not a very peaceful walk in the woods for me.  I'm sure he is thinking the same thing!

Then it hit me.  Something Sam said during puppy-class at Leader Dogs last week about keeping puppy noses off the ground during a walk...now, what was it?

Oh!  I remember.  "Increase your pace," she said.  That's it!

Okay, Gus, let's go.

I pick up the pace, hup, hup!  FLD Gus lifts his head, wondering "where's the fire," but he bounces along for the moment, more interested in where I am off to than what he is passing on the ground.

If I can only keep this up.  Whew!



HINTS TO KEEP YOUR PUPPY'S NOSE UP

  • Use name recognition to draw your puppy's attention to you.
  • Touch your puppy with your finger to distract his eyes off the ground.
  • If your puppy knows the LEAVE IT command, use it!
  • As Sam suggested, pick up the pace so your puppy gets excited to GO!
  • Use your excited, high-pitched voice to keep your puppy focused on moving WITH you.

Monday, May 9, 2011

FLD Gus in the Beauty Salon

Lately I've taken the "ask for forgiveness is easier than asking permission" approach when bringing FLD Gus into public establishments.  It seems to work.

Andy drops FLD Gus and me off at Mary's Beauty Salon in busy West Branch--he's off to Home Depot.  How can I resist an advertised $10 haircut, especially when my haircut philosophy is twofold tolerant?  One:  the difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut is two weeks.  Two:  it can NEVER be too short!

Mary's Salon is one no-longer-white wooden door among several in a long, narrow redwood stained building on the east side of town.  I open the door, expecting a creeeeeeek, but it is silent as the wind catches it and flings it out of my right hand.  FLD Gus stretches forward while I struggle to catch the door.  Inside, a Shih Tzu, head hair pulled tight out of his eyes with a green bow, stretches toward Gus in return.

Ahead, a woman with wet hair wearing a black-plastic gown sits in a straight-back chair and says to someone out of my sight to the left, "She's got a dog."

"Gizmo," the unseen stranger says.  "Get back here."  The little Gizmo bounces away.  FLD Gus and I finally enter.  The unseen woman turns out to be Mary the proprietor, who also cuts my hair.

FLD Gus skates his nails on the linoleum floor trying to get at Gizmo.  Is is okay if I bring my Leader Dog-in-training in? I ask, in-between telling Gus to leave it and getting him to sit.  Mary is more than gracious; she even offers to put Gizmo out in her car.  But Gizmo-in-the-beauty-salon is an unexpected opportunity for FLD Gus to practice self-control.

Mary ends up leashing Gizmo to her desk by the door.  I loop Gus's leash around the base of the salon-chair against the far wall.  The room is so small, the two dogs are able to touch nose-to-nose, but nothing more.  After a cursory sniff, Gizmo retreat underneath the desk and proceeds to relieve himself.  FLD Gus settles into an alert down, and stays put the short time it takes Mary to snip off my unruly locks.  Good boy, Gus!

Afterwards, FLD Gus and I work on loose-leash heeling down the distracting main drag of West Branch.  We end up at the Ogemaw County Habitat for Humanity ReStore and browse around until Andy picks us up there after his errands.

"Nice haircut," he says.

On the drive home, FLD Gus craps out in the van. 
 
FLD Gus about to fall asleep on the back seat of the van.


p.s.  FLD Gus wishes Sofia a very happy birthday!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Special Delivery


HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!

FLD Gus in the mailbox, the day we picked him up from Leader Dogs.  (Was he hoping to be mailed back to his mother?)

Dear Mom (aka "Sienna"):

I hope you have a wonderful day today!

Thank you for everything you did for me during my first seven weeks of life.  I hope you are proud of how much I've learned since leaving you.  I promise to do my best when I go to college at the Leader Dog school in September!

Your loving son,

FLD Gus

Friday, May 6, 2011

PUPPY REPORT--FLD Gus in the City

We are back in the "patch" today after a busy four days down in the city.  Spring in our woods seems to be about a month behind here, but FLD Gus doesn't care.  He's happy to be home.

Well, I take that back.  FLD Gus is happy no matter where he is; Gypsy, on the other hand, IS very happy to be back in her glorious stick-land.


ACTIVITY REPORT FOR FLD GUS

MONDAY
  • Drive to the city.
  • Crate training while I had dinner with my parents (Andy had out-of-town business).  Ninety-percent of the time during any given day, Gus is NOT in his crate (he sleeps there at night), so when I need to leave him safe, I like to think of his time in the crate as "training."  When he returns to Leader Dogs for his advanced training, he must be comfortable spending some time alone.  (By the way, Mom is doing extremely well only nine weeks after hip-replacement surgery--no cane, no pain!)
  • Mud-fest at Natalie's soccer game.
Nat at half-time.
FLD Gus, lying patiently in the muddy grass on the sidelines.

TUESDAY
  • Morning shopping at Sam's Club.
  • Crate training, again while I visited Mom (we played cards--she misses me!).
  • Self-control training while heeling outside cc'd Rosie's house before the girls got home from school.
  • Lab-wrestling with Rosie.
  • Puppy-class at Leader Dogs for the Blind.  FLD Gus weighed in at 59 pounds; congrats Sofia, for correctly guessing his weight!
  • "Portable-crate training" back at the girls' house, i.e.: no Lab-wrestling with Rosie; Gus waited for me in the truck.

WEDNESDAY
  • Morning two-mile walk in the old neighborhood, practice with dog and traffic distractions.
  • Crate training, this time while I helped Mom with some spring cleaning (I miss her, too!).
  • Afternoon one-mile walk in the old neighborhood with Andy and Gypsy, more distraction training.
  • Crate training when Andy and I enjoyed a great home-cooked meal (meatloaf) and cards with my folks.

THURSDAY
  • Restaurant training while Andy and I met a friend for breakfast.  FLD Gus is GREAT at this!
  • More shopping, this time at the commissary at Selfridge ANG Base.
  • Self-control training at a friend's house--she has birds!
  • Drive home.
Ceasar, Tony Baloney, and Sammi Salami.
video


Now, after a couple of hours helping Andy and I haul wood for next winter, FLD Gus is snoozing at my feet.

A tired puppy is a good puppy!

Remember?

3rd Assistance Dog Blog Carnival

A hearty thank you to The Trouble Is... blog for hosting the 3rd Assistance Dog Blog Carnival! (ADBC)  


Click on this link for all the submissions to the 3rd ADBC:

AND THEN READ THEM!  

Great posts by interesting bloggers, sure to expand your horizons!
Here my submission to the ADBC, REACTIONS: Meeting LD Mike's New Handler.

Monday, May 2, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "Scent of the Missing"

Scent of the Missing

-by Susannah Charleson
 2010, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, New York
 ISBN:  978-547-15244-8

For readers who want "more" about Search and Rescue (SAR) dogs than what Nora Roberts presented in her romantic-fiction The Search, Susannah Charleson's Scent of the Missing is sure to please.  (To read my review of Roberts book, click on my post from September 1, 2010.)  Charleson's memoir of her experiences volunteering for a SAR team in Dallas, Texas, while training her own Golder Retriever puppy, Puzzle, to become a certified SAR team member, offers an intimate look at the rewarding, yet demanding world of Search and Rescue.

Charleson weaves personal narrative about her life with case studies of actual SAR operations, changing specifics of the incidents to protect those involved.  As she indicates in her opening "Author's Note,"
Who, where, and when are frankly altered; what, why, and how are as straightforward as one person's perspective can make them.  The dogs are all real.  You can hold up a biscuit and call them by name.

Altered or not, Charleson's descriptive writing pulls the reader out of bed with her as she heads out to middle-of-the-dark-and-rainy-night calls, looking over her shoulder as she supports canine SAR teams tramping through the wilderness or stumbling over debris in abandoned buildings.  The reader is with Charleson all the way during the two years of training Puzzle, and feels Charleson's misdoubts as she fights through fatigue caused by a serious illness.  Will she have the ability to both do the training and perform the Search and Rescue functions?

It is not surprising to read in Charleson's book that the qualities necessary for a SAR dog are drive, confidence, and willingness to work for a human.  What IS surprising is that only 20 percent of dogs trained to become a SAR dog actually become a SAR dog.
A free-floating statistic you hear in canine SAR states that 80 percent of would-be search dogs wash out.  They can't do the work or won't do the work or too many things stress them to overload and they shut down.  Aptitude testing for puppies gives an initial idea of a puppy's overall assurance, but there are  no guarantees which way the maturing dog will go.  (166-67)

This success rate is much less than those of dogs raised to become guide dogs.  Charleson relates that a trainer once told her, "some of those 80 percent dogs wash out because of their handlers" (173).  This is Charleson's fear.

Scent of the Missing is a many-layered book.  Charleson gives background information on dog breeds suited to SAR work, especially Golden Retrievers; she is open and honest about her divorce, her illness, and her own misgivings.  She paints a realistic picture of the physical demands and commitment level of SAR volunteers (as well as their camaraderie), including the mental anguish that sometimes accompanies a search with no resolution.  Charleson also celebrates successes, whether it is a lost person found, or the passing of the written and practical tests she and Puzzle endure to finally become "certified."


A FEW SURPRISING DETAILS
  • It took three years of volunteering as a field assistant before Charleson earned a spot on the SAR team to train and run her own dog.
  • Volunteering for a SAR team is a HUGE commitment that involves, among other things, infringement on personal time (can be called at any time to go anywhere), personal expense (volunteers are responsible for all costs associated with their dogs, equipment, and as a rule, their travel to and from a search site), and intense physical training (SAR teams even learn to rappel with their dogs!).
  • SAR volunteers train 3-7 hours weekly and undergo 10-15 hours of wilderness training, including campouts.
  • SAR volunteers take classes in scent theory, medical assessment, meteorology, report writing, building construction, situation size-up, Morse-code, knot tying, dog obedience, map and compass reading, GPS, first-aid, crime scene preservation, interviewing techniques, interagency protocols, and radio navigation.

For a dog-lover considering volunteering for a canine Search and Rescue team, it would serve you well to read Susannah Charleson's book Scent of the Missing first.  Charleson reports that a question she oftentimes hears from the uninitiated is, "You do this for fun?" (67).  Like the struggle that most Leader Dog for the Blind puppy-raisers that I know have with answering our most common question ("How can you give them up?"), Charleson feels that her pat answer, "We do it for service," doesn't quite express her multi-faceted reasons.
We do it for service would be the summary response, and accurate too, but sounds a bit lofty, and canine SAR folk are not generally a lofty group.  We trudge through Dumpsters too often, carry our dogs' warm poo bags too frequently to claim much glory. (67-8)

If you are not up to the commitment level demanded of a canine SAR volunteer, consider raising a puppy for Leader Dogs for the Blind (for more information, click their Raise a Puppy page).

You will still deal with puppy "poo," but you might be surprised that the puppy-raising community is just as supportive and dedicated as Charleson's SAR team members, and you will feel the same satisfaction that comes from giving service.

Check out Susannah Charleson's website: http://www.scentofthemissing.com/the-book/.