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Monday, April 30, 2012

Desensitization

April 26, 2012
Wherein FLD Scout returns to the scene of her discontent.

Mrs. Matthews emails me. Seems the second-graders at Surline Elementary have thank-you notes and pictures for Phyllis and me after our presentation about Leader Dogs for the Blind. (See my post "Overexposure" from Thursday.)

This note from Samantha was one of my favorites. Can you tell why?

"We will be sending the notes in the mail unless you can stop by and pick them up the next time you are in West Branch."

Not one to ignore a training opportunity, I quickly agree to a revisit. Controlled exposure to kids is just what FLD Scout needs to overcome her trepidation.

I park a few blocks away to give Scout a chance to settle into working mode before we enter the school at the start of the day. Mrs. Matthews isn't in her classroom yet when we arrive, so I put Scout in a SIT/STAY at my side just outside her door.

At first, FLD Scout pokes her nose toward the stream of kids rushing to class, "awwwwws" breaking in currents around us. I can tell the second-graders--they are the educated ones not reaching out to touch Scout's head. When Scout shrinks back, I step in to physically block the inquisitive and persistent hands. Please don't pet her, I gently admonish, she's working.

At last, Mrs. Matthews appears to save us, her tall, lean frame towering over the sea of bobbing heads. "Come on in," she says. FLD Scout shakes it off and does a nice "around" to go through the door.

Mrs. Matthews' class is polite and happy to see us, and eager to hand over a thick stack of colored pictures and notes. One little girl presents me with her pencil. "It needs sharpening," she says, "but you can have it." FLD Scout and I hang out long enough to learn how to figure out the perimeter and area of rectangles--in centimeters. (Did we even do this when we were in second grade?)

After the math lesson, I heel FLD Scout around to each student as they sit at their tables. Scout sniffs each one and waggles her body for petting.

My desensitization plan is working.

FLD Scout and I leave with an open invitation and a schedule of field trips through the end of the school year. I think we've been adopted!

Here are a few examples of the notes and pictures from the second-graders at Surline.

Lily titled her picture "Super Dog." So true.

On the back of Lily's picture is her note. I love how she drew all the kids in line to pet FLD Scout. Petting Scout and Autumn was the favorite part for most of the kids--can't say the same for Scout!

In each class I ask the kids to look through their tightly closed fists to demonstrate how a visually impaired person might see. I also ask for a volunteer for "juno" training. The volunteer closes his or her eyes and holds the handle of an actual Leader Dog harness; I am the "dog" and guide the volunteer around the room. Juno training is a big hit!

Megan likes the "juno" training!

Verbatim (and as spelled), some more letters...
Der bog Trainers, Thank you for you coming in to are classroom. And thank you for leting me be a blind person. Sicerely, Shaun
Dear dog trainers. Than you for teaching us about leader dogs. I think leader dogs are amazing. I can not beleve that they teach some dogs how to sign. But I think it would be sad to have a dog for one year ownly. I would be so sad. But someone blind would need the dog more. I think it would be hard work to train and be a leader dog. Thank you again for teaching me about leader dogs. Sicerely, Mason
Dear Leader Dog Ladies, Thank you for giving us the wonderful stuff. I love dog, exspesile Scout and Autumn. They look so cute and are well behaved. And remember don't say "park" to many times in front of the dogs. Love Charlie
Dear Leader dog Ladies, I would like my dog Rocky to be a leader dog. I will buy him a cape. I will show him how to help people who can't see. I will train him. Thank you for coming to school. I will tell my mother to send money. From Madison

Aren't these cool?!


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Duckies and Baby and Bear, Oh My!

April 14, 2012
Andy and FLD Scout come with me
to the Spring Art & Wine Walk in downtown West Branch.
I'm on assignment for the Ogemaw County Voice to shoot photos.

Andy hangs with FLD Scout while I compose my shot. Can you see her tail just behind the bear?

We walk from business to business, tasting wine and hors d'oeuvres, perusing art. The gigantic metal polar bear standing guard in front of Morse Clark Furniture interests FLD Scout about as much as her bi-monthly nail-cutting. (Unlike other Labs I know, Scout could care less about getting her nails done. I rather think she enjoys the attention!)
 
In the offices of the Herald (our competitor paper), FLD Scout is interested in (but not afraid of) baby ducks that peep and scurry to the corner of a heated wooden pen. The box is lined with pages from their paper, not ours.


We stroll through crowds and stores with breakable nick-nacks. Andy holds a relaxed FLD Scout while I click away.

It is later, when the family of the happiest-baby-girl-in-pink stops us with questions about FLD Scout, that Scout reveals some trepidation. "She just loves dogs," they say. I seize the opportunity and bring a not-so-sure Scout near. With my ever-present bag of treats, I reward Scout for daring to get close enough for a sniff.

She is the same age as FLD Scout--9-months.

The baby wiggles a reach and Scout allows her to pat her snout. Scout wags her tail and the wag, as usual, ripples its way to her nose, which bumps against the baby's open palm. The baby giggles with her whole body like she is being filmed for Funniest Home Videos. That's enough for Scout--she backs away, but not too far.

PROGRESS!

The giggling baby causes FLD Scout to reassess the situation.


...still more later...



Thursday, April 26, 2012

Overexposure

Thursday, April 12, 2012
Phyllis and I, with FLD Autumn and Scout, visit all five second-grade classrooms at Surline Elementary in West Branch. 

FLD Scout poses near copies of the book, Training a Guide Dog, that Mrs. Matthews read with her class in preparation.

Phyllis, smart in her Lions' vest, talks to Mrs. Matthews' class about Leader Dogs for the Blind. Our FLDs are lying calmly--Scout is in a nice "down/stay" and keeps her eyes on me as I circle the group to take a picture.

Everything was fine until the end of our presentation in the third of five second-grade classrooms.

FLD Scout feels okay in the second class of second-graders. Here she lies near where the kids are gathered.

As long as our puppies stay calm, I said to the percolating little people in the third class on the schedule, you can file by and pet them. My OK released a deluge of squeals from the 23 kids who swarmed us like catfish in a feeding pond.

Scout had been sitting next to me, but faced with a tsunami of outstretched arms and tiny hands, she stood up, ducked her head behind me, and tried to melt into the wall.

Scout, heel, I said and eased her closer to the door, sacrificing Phyllis and FLD Autumn to the fray.

Autumn took it all in stride.

FLD Autumn thinks the kids in Mrs. Matthews' room are comfy.

Two classrooms (with more controlled greetings) later FLD Scout wasn't the only one who was relieved our speaking engagement was over.

FLD Autumn averts her gaze. She looks like she's thinking, "What is it about no eye-contact that they don't understand?"

Looks like I have some work to do, I said to Phyllis as we drove home.

Autumn conks out in the van on the drive home.  Scout sneaks up front to curl at Phyllis's feet on the passenger side.  "A tired puppy is a good puppy!"


....more to come!
 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

ADBC Call for Submissions--TAKE 2


Today was to have been the deadline for the 7th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. (To learn more about the ADBC, visit Sharon Waschler's blog post: "About the ADBC.")

Unfortunately, I have received only one submission (thank you Lyssa!), and a few requests for a deadline extension.

So.
A NEW DEADLINE.
TWO weeks from today.
Mark your calendars!

MAY 9.


To (hopefully) make things simpler, I will clarify and narrow the topic for this edition. I apologize if my convoluted sense of humor with the always-pesky words effect/affect caused anyone grief.

The following question is really what I intended.

"How has a working dog in your life IMPACTED other people and/or the relationships in your life?"

This can be how raising a puppy, training a service dog, or being the handler of a service dog has effected the people around you. Good and Bad. Better or Worse. Fun and/or not-so-fun. If you'd care to, share how it has impacted your relationships with them and what you are doing to deal with the situation.

A comment made on my blog by a handler's spouse about the effect of "having an animal in the house" is what set me thinking.
By scarletsfire on my page "Why I Raise Puppies for Leader Dogs for the Blind"
As the wife of a LD partner I can tell you that our lives have indeed been enriched. We are blessed beyond measure and greatly reap the benefits of the work of fabulous volunteers and trainers. As hesitant as I was to have an animal in the house, thanks to all the work it has been smooth sailing. Who knew there was such a thing as doggie etiquette? But thanks to the teaching that our LD come to us with, there hasn't been much to adjust too. But there have however been a lot of things to love about having a LD around. You all really make it easy for us non-partners to get accustomed to having a LD around.

To read my original post calling for submissions, follow this link: 7th ADBC.

Lyssa took my original topic to heart and wrote about the effect of raising and training her own assistance dog. Check out her insightful story,  "The Knightly effect."


To participate in the 7th ADBC, make a comment on this post with the following information:

1.  The name of your blog (for example: "plays with puppies")
2.  The title of  your ADBC post (for example: "My Father Hates Dogs")
3.  The link (URL) to your ADBC post: (for example: "http://yourblogname/postname")

I am up to the task of compiling the overwhelming amount of posts I will get on this topic. BURY ME WITH POSTS!

I will publish a synopsis with links to all posts by MAY 15.


Friday, April 20, 2012

FLD: Fiesty Lab Diva

Cc'd (career-changed) Gus takes advantage of his new status as "pet."

He floats in a graceful leap, alighting onto the couch behind my legs as I'm curled up next to Andy. He sighs, and settles his block-y head across my knees.

Scout takes umbrage. From the floor.

She approaches Gus and latches on to his collar.

He resists, but this Fiesty Lab Diva manages to drag His Hulk-ness off his perch.

LAB-WRESTLING!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fire Fighters Take 2

Enter a large room where 20-some Leader Dogs for the Blind puppy-raisers with puppies (that range from 8-weeks to 1-year) are gathering and it quickly becomes a traffic jam. You open the door and people in front of you are walking backwards with their puppies, because, like your own puppy, they have forgotten all the rules about heeling nicely on a loose leash.

You face a conundrum. You must squeeze your puppy through, but you risk the deterioration of your effort in getting your puppy to NOT pull. You shorten your leash, suck it up, and barge your way in.

This evening, "in" is the fire truck garage at the Bay City Central Fire Station. There are at least two vehicles parked inside; I can't remember exactly because I am focusing on FLD Scout. The puppy-energy in the cement-floored building ricochets off the cavernous ceiling. Through the umbilical cord that we call a "leash," I feel Scout ramping up.

Scout looks worried.
Scout, heel, I say, and walk to the far end of the garage. I notice a pile of firefighter gear next to one of the trucks and ease Scout over. She hesitates. I'm sure she remembers our debacle at the Clare outing 10 days ago. (Read about Scout's fear behavior with the firemen on my post from April 9.)

Scout, sit, I say and follow up with a "stay" command. I take a step away. She leans a bit, but holds position.

FLD Scout holds her "sit/stay" next to fire boots and clothes.

When Phyllis brings FLD Autumn over, Scout relaxes and turns to sniff the boots. Without prompting, she eases into a "down." I'm not too concerned about this (she should hold the sit until released or given another command) because sliding down is typical behavior for her--that's a good sign she's getting comfortable.

FLD Autumn gives her buddy Scout some confidence.
FLD Scout takes a sniff.
She thinks it's okay.
Yep! Definitely okay. FLD Scout lays calmly by the gear.

Eventually, all the puppies settle (for the most part) after we use tools we've learned, like name recognition, redirection with commands, finger pokes, and "leave its."

We have a lot to accomplish in an hour and a half. Up and down stairs on a tour through the station, a chance to walk our puppies through an ambulance, loose leash heeling at a busy intersection, exposure to sirens and blasting horns, and (the coupe de grace for Scout), meeting fully-geared (with beeping, hissing air tanks) firemen.

All with the added distractions of the other puppies.

At the door of the ambulance, FLD Scout looks back as if saying, "What now?!"
FLD Scout jumps into the ambulance with no troubles, but is nervous about the long drop to the grated back step. After a few seconds of considering her plan of attack, she drops her front paws onto the bumper, decides it is okay, and pops the rest of the way down. Good girl, Scout!


Scout goes for the treat.
I'm pleased when FLD Scout is cautious, but curious, of the kneeling fireman. This time her tail is not tucked between her legs; she even manages a wag or two when I give him some treats to offer her. I let her hang around while other puppies get their loving from the men that look and sound like space invaders.



It's working! FLD Scout is getting over her fear!


Isn't this little pup adorable?


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Only 2 More Weeks!


I am disappointed.

Two more weeks until the deadline for submissions for the 7th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival and thus far I have had NO takers.

I hope this fact does not have a negative effect on me.

Of course, I myself have not yet written my affecting post on the topic. (I promise to get right on it!)




To submit a post to this ADBC, leave a comment below (or at the above link) by April 25 with:
  1. The name of your blog (example, "plays with puppies")
  2. The title of your ADBC post (example, "The startling effect of puppy-breath")
  3. The link (URL) to your ADBC post (example, "http://yourblogname/postname")

Come on, bloggers, I know you can do it!

Monday, April 9, 2012

FLD Scout's New Behaviors

I've been keeping a close eye on FLD Scout. Lately she's had a few behaviors that are out-of-character. She'll be nine months old on April 11; I won't be surprised if she comes into heat soon.


CLINGINESS

Scout has always preferred staying close to me. I don't know how many times I back away from the kitchen counter only to almost fall over her as she snuggles up on the rug behind me. When I come out of the bathroom, she is standing right there. Waiting.

But...

The other evening after taking Scout out to "park," I brought her back in the house to stay with Andy while I threw sticks for Gypsy and Gus. I heard her wailing and barking inside. After a few minutes, Scout barged out of the back door with Andy at the other end of her 15' lead.

"She was carrying on and almost jumped through the window," he exclaimed. "She had all four feet on the window sill and almost knocked over the plants. It was like she thought she could just go through the window!"

Next time I left her inside like that, she got sent to her crate.


PROTECTIVENESS

Andy and I were downstate, finishing Anne's room (Andy built her a bedroom as a graduation gift). One morning, FLD Scout and I went with him on one of his many runs for supplies. We stopped for breakfast on the way.

After eating I said, Andy, Scout and I will meet you at Lowe's. It was only a mile away; walking along a busy city sidewalk is always a great training opportunity.

FLD Scout had no issues with a squealing belt on an old panel truck as it turned left at the light, and paid no mind to the heavy traffic whizzing by only a few feet away. She reminded me of her half-brother, LD Mike, as she plodded slowly at my side on a loose leash. Occasionally she stretched to sniff at the green grass sprouting alongside, but a gentle reminder with the leash brought her back in line.

A couple of houses further on, a young man dressed in jeans and a white hooded sweatshirt was using a snow shovel to scrape away mud from his driveway. The sky was dark and threatening, although warm for a misty spring morning, and the man had his hood pulled up over his head.

Scout was a very vocal puppy when we brought her home at seven weeks, but now she hardly ever "speaks," unless in play with Gus or Rosie.

But...

When Scout noticed the hooded man, she instantly grew into a larger dog. Her head, instead of low and bobbing, was in high alert, ears pricked. Her plod turned into a prance. We got a little closer and she let out a sharp BARK! I stopped. She barked again.

The young man dropped the snow shovel and took a few steps back toward his house, even though we were more than 30 feet away.

Scout, sit, I commanded, but she needed some help getting her butt down. Scout, I said, trying to redirect her attention to me. I poked her side. She glanced at me for a millisecond, huffed, and refocused on the white hoodie. I said, Stay and stepped out in front of her to obstruct her view. She strained to see around me.

When Scout settled, I turned to the fellow. He said, "I thought it might be the shovel, that's why I dropped it." He shuffled from foot to foot, gesturing with his arms.

She's a little nervous, I said, explaining that she is a Future Leader Dog in training. I'll just chat with you a bit until she calms down, okay?

"Yep, I think it was the shovel," he repeated, taking another step back. I could see that he was more nervous than Scout. Time for us to move on.

Scout, heel, I said in my most commanding voice, and kept her leash short. She pranced at my side, but did not pull to reach him. "I think it's the shovel," he mumbled again. As we passed she craned her neck around to keep her eyes on him; I responded with more finger pokes and name recognition. She finally stepped to.


FEAR

Did you now that an Easter Egg Drop really IS a "drop?" We found that out last weekend at a puppy outing in Clare. Fellow-raiser Judy and her husband Sam had arranged a busy day for six FLDs and their raisers. (Thanks Judy!)

First we met at Jay's Sporting Goods, on the north side of town. Think Cabela's, or Bass Pro Shops, and you'll imagine the challenging distractions for our puppies. The "trophy room" was particularly interesting.

FLD Scout checks out the mounting of a buck's head in Jay's trophy room. She's glad there's a rope restricting access.

FLD Scout timidly backs away from some animal skulls on display.


After Jay's we headed east of town to the Clare airport for the egg drop.

1800 plastic Easter eggs fall to the ground.


Besides all the kids and noise distractions, our FLDs got to meet the Easter Bunny. FLD Scout and FLD Autumn weren't too sure at first, but I guess when you are with a friend, the scary turns out to be not so scary after all!


But...

The puppies gathered round two of Clare's finest firefighters and two piles of gear. Civilian shoes were kicked off. The two men stepped into fireproof pants that were tucked at-the-ready over heavy rubber boots.

With amazing speed, the men grew bigger before our eyes. A pull on the attached suspenders brought the pants into place. They donned reflective jackets and snapped heavy air tanks in place as easily as I would throw Scout's "puppy bag" over my shoulder.

The furry supervisors monitor progress calmly from good-form heel positions.

A rustle arose from the four-legged crowd when the men were swallowed up by protective headgear--fire-retardant balaclavas, face shields, bright yellow helmets--and bulky gloves.

The puppies are starting to be not so sure.


A sudden burst of hissing air startled the puppies as the men turned on their breathing apparatuses, but it didn't take long for them to recover.

Except for FLD Scout.

She bolted to the end of her leash. She danced in my shadow, using me as a shield between her and THAT HUGE SCARY MONSTER!

FLD Ruckus shows FLD Scout it's okay, but she's not buying it, even if there are treats!

It might have been the acceptance of the other puppies that eventually gave Scout enough confidence to come a little closer, but I suspect it was the shutting off of the air tanks and the gradual reappearance  of the men who had disappeared. They took off their gloves and lifted their face shields.

Scout finally took a treat.

Luckily, the firefighters were patient while Scout got over her fear. We'll see how she does this week--we have another outing, this time at the Bay City Central Fire Station!

Some little girls love up FLD Scout, who sits nicely for the attention.