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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On Assignment. West Branch Puppy Outing

The pre-winter storm that hammered the Bay City area didn't hit our northeastern corner of the state last night. The wind howled and moaned in the trees, but only the stars filled the night sky. At mid-morning, when Phyllis and Dick pulled up in their monster van to pick up FLD Scout and me for a puppy-outing, they sky burned blue and clear.

FLD Scout peered up into the van when I opened the side door. It was too high a jump for her, so I scooped her in. Camera bag, Leader Dog puppy-clean-up bag, and hand bag bopped her from my shoulder; she didn't care. She spotted FLD Autumn hunkered down between the two front seats.

FLD Autumn is a full-of-herself 8-week-old yellow lab. Phyllis and Dick picked her up from Leader Dogs for the Blind not long after they returned LD mom Amber's eight bouncing black lab puppies. Dick said, "One is a lot easier than eight!"

During the 20-mile drive to West Branch to meet Tammy (and FLD Ruckus) and Judy (and FLD JD) for some group socialization at the Tanger Outlet mall (and lunch at the LumberJack), Scout and Autumn went from crazy-wild-puppy-play to puppies-asleep-in-a-pile.


FLD Autumn flies to play with FLD Scout.

"What?"

Tired puppies--and we haven't even reached West Branch yet!

I think they are going to be good friends.

 

FLD Autumn begs FLD JD to play, but...working bandanas are on means it is time to go to work.

FLD Scout shows FLD Autumn how to hold a SIT/STAY.

I always like the commotion BEFORE a group photo is taken! Phyllis has FLD Autumn under control, but the others have their hands full. Sam with FLD JD, Dick with FLD Scout, Judy and Tammy with FLD Ruckus.

It was a beautiful sunny day and FLD Autumn decides to make the most of it.


Thanks, Tammy, for getting this together!

(Story to follow in the next issue of the Ogemaw County Voice.)


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday's Training TIP: Body Language

Watching dogs interact can be more entertaining than television (I know, that's not saying much). But, if you have more than one dog in your household, you know what I'm talking about.

Before Gus came home, there really wasn't much interaction between FLD Scout and my old mutt, Gypsy. Grouch that she is, Gypsy let Scout know (in no-uncertain-terms), "leave me alone!." Curled lip, guttural growl, and a few "air snaps" of her teeth were all it took for Scout to take heed.

But observing the behavior of dogs as they engage each other can also be a learning experience. Canines communicate a great deal just with body language!

Take a look at the communication going on between FLD Scout and Andy's daughter's two German Shorthair Pointers, Gauge and Odo, during a recent visit.

Gauge is a year younger than my Gypsy, and almost as grouchy! Here he is asserting his presence to Scout by putting his head over her. She "submits" to him by making herself smaller and lowering her head.

Gauge is crabbing at Scout, who has now taken a seated position. Notice she averts her eyes and is still "hunkering" down beneath him.

Scout hunkers down even further as Gauge is distracted by Gus, who offers a toy in play.

Gauge circles around Scout, still vocalizing. Scout moves her head in his direction and stays low.

Here Scout sits up a bit and tests the situation, turning her face toward Gauge. I wonder if she's thinking, "Awww, he's all talk!"

Whoops! Scout has second thoughts as Gauge pushes against her snout--she pulls her head back in defense. Gypsy watches from the other room.

Odo and Gus move into the discussion. Gauge gets distracted away from Scout, who now stands up. Gus rolls onto his back--he doesn't want any trouble!

Here's a blurry shot of Gus inviting Gauge to play. (He wasn't successful.)


BODY LANGUAGE HINTS DURING TRAINING

Here are some signs to look for that might indicate your puppy is starting to get overwhelmed during a training session.
  • lip-licking
  • yawning
  • dropping the head
  • dandruff--this really isn't a behavior, but it can indicate stress
If you notice any of these in your puppy, go back to something your puppy knows well--and end your training session on a positive!

Spend some time watching...you might be surprised at what you can learn.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Fourth Puppy Syndrome

I think I'm suffering from "4th-puppy-syndrome."

Not taking as many pictures of FLD Scout. Not blogging as often.  Just going with the flow.

I could rationalize it.

Frequent trips downstate. Puppy-counselor duties. Too busy with writing assignments for the Ogemaw County Voice. Cutting and stacking wood.

But I won't. FLD Scout is a very easy puppy, and now that Gus is home the two of them keep each other amused.

In photos, let me show you how my 4th Future Leader Dog puppy has grown--and some of the places she's been!


SEPTEMBER

FLD Scout at a puppy-outing to Lake Superior State College, posing next to a Leader Dogs for the Blind working harness. She looks as if she's thinking, "I can do it!"



OCTOBER

FLD Scout makes herself comfortable in the sometimes-very-uncomfortable stadium, arena, or gymnasium stands!

Here FLD Scout snoozes through Elaina's Cousino High School Marching Band performance. Drum lines, no problem!


FLD Scout yawns with a wee bit of "stress" after walking around the Lake Superior State hockey arena--blaring music, thick crowds, food distractions on the ground, all while passing other Future Leader Dog puppies walking the other direction. (Puppy-counselor Tammy holds FLD Scout so I can take a picture.)

That little bit of stress wasn't enough to prevent FLD Scout from taking a nap in the stands during the game. Even with slamming hockey pucks and players checking each other into the boards right in front of us!


FLD Scout followed the basketball for awhile during the benefit game between the Habitat Hoops and the Harlem Ambassadors at Ogemaw Heights High School. But then, nodded out again!


NOVEMBER

FLD Scout is suddenly big enough to wear her baby-blue "Leader Dog in Training" jacket. No more tiny bandana for her!

A group of FLDs and their raisers pose at the MBS Airport near Midland during a recent outing. We all got "patted down" in security--including the puppies!
FLD Scout in a nice "down/stay" while I re-lace my boots after going through security at the airport.

No Scout, we already went through security. The nice TSA man just wants to pet you.

Checking out the moving luggage turnstile. FLD Scout acts like she could have a second career as a bomb-sniffing dog.


It's not ALL work for FLD Scout!

Gus looks like he's advising FLD Scout...
...Gus says, "Look Scout, you get a BIG stick, like this!"
"Like this?" Scout asks.
Gus shows Scout what to do after playing all day.
Scout is learning!


The following two photos were taken during a recent visit at my sister's home downstate.

Scout thinks, "THIS is more comfortable!" Gus isn't convinced.
But maybe THIS is! Gus and Scout pile up with Sofia and Natalie.


Little Scout is growing up!



Sunday, November 13, 2011

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival Links

Cyndy Otty, blogger of Gentle Wit has hosted the 5th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. The theme for this edition is Achievement. Please visit her post with brief descriptions and links to posts from participating bloggers at: Assitance Dog Blog Carnival #5: Achievement.

Take a few moments to peruse these posts, they will give you a new perspective on the role these amazing assistance dogs play in real people's lives.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Thank You Veterans

Thinking of Andy's son, Josh, this Veteran's Day, who is stationed in Kuwait. His National Guard unit from North Carolina is helping to extricate US equipment from Iraq.

Keep your head down Josh!

Josh hikes through our woods last July, during our family gathering.

Thinking also of Andy's niece, Patti, who is serving in Korea. Thank you Josh and Patti, and ALL veterans, for your service.

FLD Scout helping Andy in the Habitat for Humanity Warehouse. We wish safe passage for all our troops!  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I was a Guest Blogger!

I recently wrote a "guest post" for a fellow blogger, Jenny, over at Paws for Thought. (If you click on the title of her blog it will take you right to the post I wrote for her!)

Jenny has been blogging since 2007 when she was paired up with her very first guide dog, OJ. Jenny had to wait two years before Irish Guide Dogs found her a match with "the lovely black Labrador Retriever." She started her blog to document her experience with him.

Thank you, Jenny, for sharing your life working with OJ with all of your readers, and for letting me share a little bit of my life raising Future Leader Dog puppies with you.

Here's a picture that should have gone along with my post on Jenny's blog!


A very well behaved FLD Scout was a big hit at the Lions' Club Zone meeting held in West Branch on October 25. All thanks to a long walk in the rain.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tuesday's Training TIP: Stand

Try as I might, I could not get all these videos processed in time to publish this post yesterday. So, here's a "Tuesday's Training TIP" on Wednesday!

STAND is a helpful command to teach a Future Leader Dog puppy. A standing puppy is easier to groom, and later she'll need to stand for her handler to put on the harness.

I video-taped a training session to demonstrate how I'm teaching FLD Scout to "stand"on command. This particular session lasted just over seven minutes. In the video, FLD Scout is wearing her working bandana and leash.


Step One. WARM UP.

Before any training session it is a good idea to "warm up" your puppy with some things she already knows. (Okay, "might" already know!)

I start working FLD Scout with a heel, sit, stay, and down. As I pass my dog Gypsy I tell Scout to "leave it" when she makes a move toward her, and praise her when she ignores Gypsy.

(I really missed an opportunity to let Scout make up her own mind before telling her what to do.)

Scout needs work on her "sit in a heel position" because she tends to wander out in front of me before sitting. I merely slide her back into the heel position, but to work on correcting this I will practice heeling close to a wall with no room for her to swing out.

At the end of this video, Scout is on her way to a "sit" when I give her the "down" command. Scout came home to us with such a good "sit" that I've had to work on her NOT sitting whenever we stop during a walk on leash! (While puppies are still in the breeder homes they learn to "sit" before getting picked up or eating.)

video



Step two.  First attempt with the STAND command.

FLD Scout likes to swing out with her "down" too. Notice that I just slide her right back into the heel position.

When I give her the "stand" command, you can see that she moves a little--a sign that she's thinking about what I want her to do. This is not the very first time she's heard this command. Normally, I would have waited a second or two to see what she would have done, but I wanted to demonstrate the little step forward that will encourage her to get up. 

When I "fake" the first step, Scout sits, so I fake a second step forward to get her to stand. I immediately step back, which causes her to take her more familiar position--the sit!

(I should not have said "nope" under my breath when Scout sits, but putting her into the "stand" is the right thing to do.)

I rub her belly a bit to keep her in the stand position. I think she would have held it after I stand back up myself, but to ensure that she doesn't drop into a sit, I immediately take her into a heel.


video 


  
Step three.  STAND from a "sit" and demonstration of leash technique.

FLD Scout's "sit" this time was a little better. (See, repetition helps!) You can see that I wait a moment this time after giving the "stand" command to see if Scout would make a move.

The whining you hear in the background is cc'd Gus from his crate in the other room. This creates enough of a distraction that I have to add a verbal cue to get Scout's attention back to me. She stands with my fake step forward, but sits back down when I praise her (and Andy finally notices that I am working with her).

Again, I merely stand Scout back up. This time I loop her leash around her belly--a technique that can help keep her standing while I straighten back up myself.


video 



Step four.  STAND, almost!

I treat FLD Scout for looking at me when I say her name because she still needs work with "name recognition." 

This third try at the "stand" command is the first time Scout stands without sitting first! You can see that she started moving and if I had just kept still she probably would have stood without me taking that step. (See where patience comes into play?)

Then, I praise her a bit too enthusiastically and she anticipates me reaching into my pocket to treat her. I place her back into position with a belly rub and immediately have her "stay" to try to reinforce her "stand."


video


After this segment, I could tell that FLD Scout was getting a bit overwhelmed. She acted like she forgot how to walk next to me and she flopped onto her side when I asked for a "down." I knew that we needed to end the session on a positive, so I picked up the pace on our walking, had her sit and stay, and threw in a "come," which she readily did, so I gave her the "OK" that released her from working. Lots of praise and fun (while keeping her four feet on the floor) and we were done.


LATER THAT DAY....

I did another session with FLD Scout. We "warmed up" and tried the STAND again. Success!!! It wasn't perfect, but I was more patient and she stood on her own with no cues.

That's what I call PROGRESS.

video



HINTS
  • be patient
  • repetition is important
  • work a new command without distractions
  • add distractions as your puppy masters the command

Don't be afraid to try this for yourself. Have fun and you can easily see that even if the trainer isn't "perfect" the puppy can still learn!



Friday, November 4, 2011

Guster Buster

In a gleeful mood visiting family downstate for Halloween, ironically on "issue day" (see note below) at Leader Dogs for the Blind, I received the dreaded call.

"I'm so sorry to tell you," the Leader Dog employee said, "but Gus was career-changed today."

No matter what they tell you, it is never enough information. Questions abound, you just can't believe it. MY puppy???  He was GREAT!  What happened?

You second-guess yourself.  Where did I go wrong in raising him?  Should I have done something different?  Did I take him into the woods too much?  What more could I have done to switch on the working-gene in this dog?

You can't help but think back and try to identify a clue that this was coming.  Those times he hesitated getting out of the van and then when he did he bolted to the end of his leash.  Maybe it wasn't that he was trying to avoid my bag banging against his head, maybe he didn't really want to get that working vest on and come with me into the grocery store/bank/library/restaurant...

You can go crazy thinking about it.  You can despair for the puppy you are raising now.  All your effort, all the hope.  For naught.

You second-guess the training protocol at Leader Dogs.  But you have to trust that this organization, in the business of training guide dogs since 1939, knows what it is doing; that the trainers understand the dogs and do their best to bring them along; that they've used all their tools in their training-box.  That they gave him every opportunity.

In the end, the dog decides.  It's like the rest doesn't even matter.

Two months into his formal training at Leader Dogs for the Blind, Gus decided that a job as a guide dog wasn't for him.

The official reason?  Gus "lacked responsibility" and his "body sensitivity was too high."  Simply put, he shied away from the harness and didn't want to work.

So.

GUS IS BACK!


Gus found his old bed, but he almost doesn't fit in it anymore. What do you suppose he is thinking?
Gus can hardly keep his eyes open after several hikes through our woods this day. On our first walk, on the way back, he suddenly grabbed up a HUGE tree limb, breaking it in two between two standing trees, and merrily dragged it back to the house. FLD Scout assisted--with the tree limb, and the nap. She is very happy to have a playmate now.
Waiting for the "OK" at breakfast, FLD Scout and Gus share his old mat, while Gypsy sits closest to the food dishes.


"Issue day" is the day each month that the blind and visually impaired "students" in class at Leader Dogs for the Blind first meet their new four-legged-furry partner.