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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

OBSTACLES--Traffic Exposure When There is No Traffic


Cait Macanliss, over at Dogstar Academy is the host for the 6th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (ADBC). The topic for this edition is OBSTACLES.

To learn more about the ADBC, or to find links to past editions, check out founder Sharon Wachsler's post on her blog, "After Gadget."

What follows is my submission.

Sometimes being aware of ones obstacles is the first step in overcoming them.

When we moved from the city to the country last year, I worried about being able to provide enough diverse experiences for my Future Leader Dog puppy. So, I purposefully made efforts to bring FLD Gus, my puppy at the time, to town at least once a week. Twice a month we also made trips to the city and FLD Gus continued to get exposure to crowds and traffic he didn't get up north.

Read my post from the 4th ADBC, "Living the Difference" and you'll see that I eventually calmed down about it all and continued raising Gus to the best of my abilities.

Enter FLD Scout, my fourth Leader Dogs for the Blind puppy. Scout shares the same mother as my second puppy, Mike, who went on to work with Eric, a young man from Spain. (Read my post from the 3rd ADBC, "REACTIONS: Meeting LD Mike's New Handler.") Funny how these posts seem so connected!

In spite of continued trips to the city, FLD Scout is the first puppy I'm raising while living full-time in the country. A rural lifestyle does create obstacles in exposing Scout to heavy traffic, an important aspect in raising a Future Leader Dog. Scout wasn't with us very long before I realized that she wasn't getting the experience she needed.

We were out on our driveway one morning in September practicing loose-leash walking, and I saw the neighbor-kid, Ryan, spinning around on his BMX bike while waiting for the school bus. I headed his way, always open to distraction opportunities.

Hi Ryan, I said as he skidded to a stop in front of us. FLD Scout froze, unsure. Scout, sit, I said to redirect her attention. Everything was new to her, so I helped her little butt to the pavement.

This is Scout, I said as I straightened up. Can you help me train her? Ryan agreed to ride slowly by a few times, keeping some distance until Scout learned that a boy on a squeaky bicycle was okay.

That strategy worked. After only a few pass-bys, Ryan was able to coast right up to Scout, his tennis shoes dragging. She leaned toward him with her investigating nose, but held her sit. Go ahead, you can pet her. Ryan leaned over too, and made fast friends.

I heard the school bus rumble round the corner a mile away at Wiltse Road and start laboring up the grade. Ryan sped off to drop his bike in his yard and hustled to grab his backpack that was lying against a tree.

Another opportunity! I heeled FLD Scout off to the side of the road, had her sit, and waited for the bus to arrive.

The bus groaned to a stop. Scout startled. As I bent over to reposition her back into a sit, the bus's air brakes let loose. Scout bolted in the opposite direction. When she hit the end of her leash she was like a snagged fish fighting to stay out of the boat.

Scout! Sit, I commanded, gathering up the leash. I had to put her in a sit. Good girl, Scout! She glanced up at me. Good girl! I said again and rewarded her name recognition with a bit of the puppy chow I always carry in my right pocket. She lost interest in the scary yellow monster, which had quieted to swallow Ryan.

Scout, heel, I said and walked further away from the bus before it roared back to life.

Here was an obvious obstacle. How was I to expose FLD Scout to heavy traffic when the school bus twice a day was about the extent of it on Brady Road?

Off to town we go!

We walked one block north, south, east, and west, crossing busy M-33 at the only traffic light as many times and from as many directions as we could. Then, for 20 minutes or so, I sat on the peeling paint of a weathered bench on the east side of M-33, just north of the light, with FLD Scout positioned in a sit beneath me. Tandem log-haulers, propane delivery trucks, and a steady stream of commercial freight transport vehicles rumbled by us north and south.

FLD Scout looks up at me as we pause to watch 18-wheelers thunder by us.

"You sure about this?" she seems to ask.

Before long, Scout relaxed into a down and seemed to enjoy the parade.

FLD looks south...

...and north at the passing truck parade.

FLD Scout takes traffic in stride, now. I still make sure to take her to town--in the last week she's been to the Post Office, doctor's office, and Big Bob's Restaurant in Hale, Glen's grocery store and the pharmacy in Rose City, and Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and Subway in West Branch.

Guess we're getting out and about more than I realized!

Four months later, FLD Scout is bored at the same peeling bench, this time accompanied by Phyllis and FLD Autumn.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tuesday's Training TIP: AROUND

The "around" command is specific to our Future Leader Dog puppies. When doors have hinges on our left side (where the puppy is heeling), it is safer to pass through the door with the puppy on our right. 

So, we teach them "around"--passing the leash from left hand to right behind our backs, guiding the puppy to our right side, then we proceed through the doorway. Once safely through, we pass the leash behind our back from right to left and "heel" our puppy forward.

This short video is of me and FLD Scout in our house, going through a left-hinged door into our bedroom. In a more open area I would have walked a bit further on before having Scout heel back to my left side.


(As we approach the door, FLD Scout veers toward the open door on our left--Gus was there in his crate! Scout did a pretty good job refocusing on task. And notice the nice loose leash?)

  • Repetition! Always, always, always, guide your puppy to your right side this way at EVERY left-hinged door you pass through.
  • Feel for the door. A blind or visually impaired handler will reach out to see where the door knob the same thing with your puppy as a "cue" and soon your puppy will watch for your command if the "around" is necessary.
  • If your puppy rushes through, stop, shut the door, and wait until the leash is loose. Try again.
  • Stop after going through, keep your puppy standing at your right side, and then shut the door. (I didn't do this in the video.)
  • Praise your puppy!

Monday, January 9, 2012

FLD Puppy Walk

Maybe it wasn't winter because FLD Scout and I were with Phyllis and FLD "Autumn."

Temperature 50, indigo skies, and sunshine so bright that puddles we sloshed through at the street light crossing were stepped over on our return.

FLD Scout and I had lunch with our new friends Friday and took advantage of the spring-like weather to walk around town. Of course, we worked on Obedience Commands and tolerating traffic, too.

Come along...

FLD Scout "sits" in her prettiest pose before heading in for lunch.

Phyllis and FLD Autumn inside the Faull Inn. (Just a hint, order the "dry" batter fish and chips--much chrunchier!)

FLD Autumn peers around our table. She was very interested in playing with FLD Scout.

"Come on, can't we just play a little?" she seems to beg. FLD Scout stretches a sniff in interest, but does a fine job with self-control...

...even when FLD Autumn pulls to get closer. (See how Scout's head comes up and back?) Very good girl, Scout!

OH MAN! I never get what I want!

After lunch we sit in the sun awhile to get used to the truck traffic roaring by on M-33.

There goes one now! FLD Autumn watches, but isn't bothered at all.

I am glad that FLD Scout is past her puppy-picks-up-EVERYTHING phase. Phyllis wasn't sure what she swept out of FLD Autumn's mouth and flung away, but we do know it was red!

At the traffic light (the only one in town) we practice one of Leader Dogs for the Blind's new "In-for-Training" standards. Our Future Leader Dog puppies must be confident near heavy traffic and must sit or stand calmly through one cycle of a traffic light. Both puppies did fine.

Phyllis takes us down a quiet neighborhood sidewalk. Here FLD Autumn is heeling nicely on a loose leash, even if her wet little nose is sniffing away.

I did not know that Rose City has a Community Garden. (Watch for a future story in the Ogemaw Voice.) The garden is fenced in and dormant--a perfect opportunity to let the puppies run off some steam. Wait a minute, maybe we should have done this BEFORE we went to the Faull Inn!

FLD Autumn isn't as amused as we are with her bandana babushka!

Doesn't she have the most expressive face?

A pooped-out pup! Mission accomplished.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Leaving it at the Cedar Bar

Living north is subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) changing our lives.

We can't get cable TV here, and we're not about to pay for the high cost of satellite TV (we already cut loose for satellite Internet, which is a small step above dial-up) just to have a gazillion channels to flip through to find nothing worth watching. The two channels (and sometimes three) that our roof antenna usually picks up are enough to blank out our minds in the evening.

But. It was New Year's Day and the Lions were playing Green Bay at Lambeau field.

So far my only regret in life is that I did not answer the call to shovel snow from Lambeau when Andy and I were there one Christmas a few years ago. No one in the family wanted to join me making $8/hour shoveling snow in the greatest stadium in the Midwest!

Now, don't misunderstand me. We are not football fans. (I just thought it would be fun to shovel snow out of that stadium...for money!)

After witnessing history being made in the form of a midnight ball drop the night before in West Branch (the nearest "big" town), it was a lazy day, perfect for lounging around and watching a game.

Except. We couldn't. No TV reception at all.

I'm not sure who said it. "Let's go over to the Cedar Bar and watch the game."

The Cedar Bar, with banner announcing that the "Kitchen is Open"

The Cedar Bar is exactly 1.5 miles from our house. Last year, the night before New Year's Eve, fire trucks from across the county sirened up our hill through the fog to put out a grease fire in their kitchen. While the 1930's wood building did not burn to the ground, it took over eight months to re-open, and four months longer for the newly built kitchen.

We don't frequent bars, but there is something about living north that makes having a neighborhood bar appealing. The log walls, the informal attitude, the place where locals hang out and gossip. Oh, and did I mention no smoking, $2 beers, and free freshly popped popcorn?

The warm ambience of the Cedar Bar's bar.

Off we went, FLD Scout in tow.

There was a crowd, at least a crowd for the Cedar Bar on a wintery Sunday afternoon, but we snatched a spot near the pool tables with a clear view of the TV hanging above the stone fireplace. The waitress, sporting knee-high winter boots, brought us beer, and a heaping basket of salty popcorn.

FLD Scout could have cared less when a group of fans across from us erupted into hoots and hollers at every other play. She lifted her head, but made no attempt to join in the fun.

FLD Scout was focused. On one lone kernel of popcorn lost under our table.

Good girl, Scout! I encouraged in between sips of beer when she looked, but didn't lunge. She was sneaky, and Marine-crawled on the slippery wood floor to work her way closer. I sat on her leash and whispered, Leave it. She backed off. Good girl!

FLD Scout peered and stared and try as she might, she could NOT levitate that kernel to her drooling chops. I was sure that by the end of the game her gaze would burn that kernel black.

The Lions lost, but FLD Scout scored big on treats for leaving that popcorn alone!

Monday, January 2, 2012