Archives for October 2011

It’s Halloween!

Happy Halloween Everyone!

This year Huib and I decided to try being artistic, and make a Dr. Seuss themed pumpkin.

Canyon The Wizard

Cessna the Christmas Elf

Aspen The Ladybug

Rogue The Fairy Princess

Only Aspen seemed to enjoy this little game of dress-up.

Wonder what they would all think, if I made them all wear their costumes tonight…

Eight Years Old

You wouldn’t know from seeing her, but today is Cessna’s eighth birthday.

I’m really not sure how I feel about this.

On one hand, it’s a day to spoil her rotten and to celebrate.

But, on the other hand, it’s a day which signifies the ominous approach of retirement and the future ailments of being a senior dog.

I know I should be cherishing every day I have with Cessna and try not to worry about the future, but having just recently lost Phoenix, I can’t help but feel sad.

Phoenix and I had a wonderful partnership. We enjoyed many memories and pretty much became adults together.

But, Cessna and I have something different. Yes, we have a wonderful partnership. But, there’s more to it, than just the average blind person-dog guide bond.

Cessna has made me a better person.

She came into my life as Phoenix’s successor, but she’s been more than that.

She’s been my reality check.

From the beginning, Cessna and I had to learn different ways of working together. Unlike other dogs in her class, she couldn’t trust. When most clients and their dogs were cuddling and getting to know one another. Cessna and I were sitting at a distance, trying to figure out whether it was worth putting trust in each other. It wasn’t until our second week together, that she actually offered some affection.

From that moment, I knew this little firecracker was going to be mine.

Over the past six and a half years together, we’ve had our ups and downs.

I had an image of what our partnership should look like. But, she showed me differently.

Cessna made me work for her respect. In return, she gave me not only that same respect, but also taught me lessons that will resonate within me for a lifetime.

Not every dog who comes into your life will make an everlasting impression upon you, but I’ve been blessed to have had two very special labs do just that.

Phoenix gave me independence and taught me the value of unconditional love.

Cessna has given me insight and shown me how important treating others (including non-humans) with dignity and respect.

If Cessna had not entered my life, I know for a fact, I would not have become the caring and compassionate animal guardian I am today.

So, without further a due, please join me in wishing my little ball of energy, a very…

Happy 8th Birthday!

Cessna, I look forward to spending many more wonderful years with you, laughing and learning along the way.

6.5 Month Old Rogue

Huib catches Rogue in a natural position.

Huib tries to get Rogue posing.

Cessna “Push”

Cessna wanted to show you all how she helps out in the bathroom.

Fun With Toilet Paper

Rogue thinks Cyndi Lauper was right when she said “Girls just wanna have fun.”

Closing Doors

Cessna will be turning 8 on Sunday. It’s hard to believe how quick time is passing with her, but we’ll talk more about that in a few days.

The reason I wanted to write today, was to tell everyone about the new skill Cessna is learning.

Cessna is learning to close cupboard doors.

I was practicing “touch” with Rogue in the washroom on Tuesday, and Cessna wandered in. She started to try and “touch” my hand as well, so I decided to take a moment with her. I put Rogue into a down and then opened the cupboard door under the sink. I then got Cessna to sit a couple of feet from the door and then pointed to it and said “touch”. She wasn’t sure at first, so I I pointed to the cupboard door and said “touch” again. She walked over and nudged it lightly with her nose. I immediately said “YES!”, and gave her a treat. I then put her back into a sit a couple of feet away, made sure I had her attention and then pointed to the door and said “touch” once more. She walked over a little quicker and nudged it harder, it almost banged close, but not quite, so I decided to ask her to “touch” again. She nudged it a little harder and the door closed with a bang, and we partied!

After finishing her treat and getting tons of praise, Cessna looked at the door, so I put her back into a sit and opened it. I pointed, and said “touch”. Cessna walked over and nudged it almost closed, so I said “harder” and she pushed again and it banged closed. She looked at me, swished her tail, and we had another party!

Since Tuesday, she has practiced with the washroom cupboard a few more times and does it with just one cue! We have also started to practice with the big door of our pantry, our freezer’s door (we have a fridge that has the freezer on the bottom as opposed to the top), and the doors under the kitchen counter. She can close the pantry almost perfectly now, still needs a couple extra cues for the freezer, and has a bit of trouble with some of the cupboard doors in the kitchen. Cessna has no real issue with the doors that open on the left, but when I ask her to close the ones that open to the right, she’ll often start trying to grab things to bring me from inside the cupboard lol!

I think that with a couple more days of practice though, she’ll be doing all cupboards without a second thought.

Cessna never ceases to amaze me with her eagerness to learn new skills.

Training With The Rogue Puppy

As I mentioned in this post, I ran into some training issues with the Boarder Collie Lady, and with the help of Sharon, from After Gadget, I have created a new training plan.

After reading my post, Sharon, Karyn and others, suggested I forget about the Border Collie Lady, and start looking for new training resources.

Well, my first step in this process was to join the Training Levels Group with Sharon’s assistance. This was probably the most important decision I have made in the four months, since picking up my little girl.

As soon as I posted my introduction to the group, a wonderful woman from Wyoming, e-mailed me to introduce herself and immediately took me under her wing. She first gave me blind-friendly suggestions on teaching “touch”, and then called me a few days later, to discuss where I was so far, and where I wanted to go from here. She listened intently, then told me a bit about the process she went through in training her 20 month old male, standard poodle, who has now passed his public access test. She commended me on our progress so far, and told me to continue doing what I am, but to also start working more closely on Sue Ailsby’s Levels. She said that for the first year, she mainly socialized, exposed and trained her dog using the levels. The following day, she sent me her training plan for me to follow when Rogue is ready to begin her task training (or guide work).

Since our phone call, we’ve traded e-mails every couple of days. It is so great to know there is someone willing to invest their time and energy in helping us succeed. She has also suggested I start working on some of the Level 2 behaviours, since Rogue is pretty close to passing Level 1, we’re just working on targeting and come.

Here is where Rogue is with Level 1:

Come (from 20 feet) – In Progress
Down (with 2 cues) – Passed
Sit (with 1 cue) – Passed
Target/Touch (nose to palm) – In Progress
Zen/Leave It (5 seconds in hand) – Passed

Here are the behaviours Rogue will/has learn in Level 2:

Come (from 40 feet, 2 cues)
Crate (enter, open/close door with 2 cues) – Passed
Distance (goes around a pole 2 feet away with 2 cues)
Down (from sit with 1 cue)
Down Stay (while I walk 20 feet away/back with extra cues)
Go To Mat (from 5 feet away with 2 cues)
Handling (tail, ears, feet) – Passed
Leash (loose for 1 minute with 1 distraction)
Sit (from stand with 1 cue) Passed
Sit Stay (while I walk 20 feet away/back with extra cues)
Stand (from sit or down with 2 cues)
Stand Stay (without moving feet for 10 seconds)
Target/Touch (nose to marked end of stick with 1 cue)
Trick (can be a very simple one)
Watch (eye contact for 10 seconds with 2 voice cues)
Zen/Leave It (5 seconds in hand & 10 seconds on chair with 2 cues) Passed

I have started to do regular little training sessions with Rogue when I’m in the washroom, and she really seems to be catching on to the “touch” behaviour. I am not naming it yet, but think she is pretty close to being able to “touch” on cue. I think the random, short sessions are working out a lot better for us both, because she isn’t expected to pay attention for more than 3 minutes at a time, and I am not having to worry about the others getting upset about being left out.

“Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly.” – Robert H. Schuller

Yesterday

Yesterday would have been Phoenix’s 15th birthday.

Since he’s not here to celebrate with me, I thought I would post some pictures from the 13 wonderful years we spent together. Many, you will have already seen, but I thought I’d also try and add a little story to go along with them.

This picture was given to me by Phoenix’s foster family. Alice, his foster mom, told me that Phoenix’s favourite place to sleep was behind her, in this pink chair. She said that in the mornings, Phoenix wood eat his breakfast, go out for relief, play a bit of bowl hockey and then take an hour nap. She said that as he got bigger though, he began to take up more and more of the chair, until finally, she had to find another place to sit.

Phoenix joined me in my final year of high school. He was probably the most popular student in our year. Everyone seemed to know his name, and at times I’d have random people come over to give him a treat. I think his favourite class was spare though, because we would usually meet up with a friend to go outside and play fetch or leave school to walk around the mall. Unlike Cessna, Phoenix loved to go shopping.

Phoenix and I joined Huib in Vancouver, when he attended a conference. I had a friend come along so that we could tour the universities and visit some of the sights. I think the funniest story of that trip, was when Phoenix met another guide dog. I had been talking to a woman on the web and decided to meet up with her. Phoenix was so happy to see Hula, that he got a little too “excited”. I was so embarrassed!

The only other memorable experience from that trip, was probably when I got to feed a real seal in Victoria. There is a spot where you can go out onto a dock overlooking the Pacific Ocean and feed the seals some fresh fish from a vendor. I held the piece of fish over the edge of the dock and Phoenix watched intently, as a big, fat seal appeared, and took the fish.

Phoenix was always so proud of new “clothes”. He would prance around the house, showing off his new item. It didn’t matter if it was a new bandana, collar, coat or saddle bags, he had to show them off. It also didn’t matter if just Huib and I were home either. I have some other funny pictures of him dressed up, but I’ll have to get Huib to help me find them, to post at a later date.

When Phoenix retired, I knew he wouldn’t be happy just staying at home, so I decided to have him certified as a therapy dog. Phoenix loved visiting with all of the residents at the long-term care home we were assigned to. Unfortunately, school got in the way, and we had to resign after just a year of volunteering.

Phoenix loved going on walks through the conservation area behind our Guelph condominium. He had fun sniffing and investigating, while his buddy Aspen got into any puddle she could find. Luckily, Phoenix hated mud and puddles, so we never had to worry about giving him a bath after a walk.

Phoenix was never a big fan of puppies, but he also had a great deal of patience. When Aiden was really, really young, he used to follow Phoenix around like he was a celebrity. It took Aiden months, but Phoenix finally warmed up to him.

This picture was taken while they were both in “time out” for doing things they shouldn’t have. Phoenix had decided to eat a skeletonized bird carcass, while Aiden wouldn’t stop trying to raid the cooler of another beach-goer.

Phoenix was always food obsessed. He would do absolutely anything for food. When he ate, his bowl was clean within seconds. When I offered a treat, he grabbed it out of my hand. His favourite toys, were anything that had to do with food, so we used to search high and low for new treat dispensing toys. I think by the end, Phoenix had five different balls that dispensed treats, and four different kong products, we could put cookies into. Rogue has since inherited his beloved toys.

One really bad habit Phoenix had, was rolling around in the sand after he was all wet. I used to try so hard to keep him clean, but he always ended up outsmarting me.

Phoenix always loved swimming. He would swim so long, that we’d actually worry about him drowning from exhaustion. As he got older though, he found it more fun to just stand in the shallow parts, cooling off.

We had quite the scare in December, when Phoenix had an acute onset of Idiopathic Vestibular Disease. We honestly thought we were going to lose him, but were blessed to have him with us eight more months.

Last year, we weren’t sure Phoenix would be with us to celebrate his 15th birthday, so we had quite the party. My sister and step-dad came over and we all (dogs included) had pizza (gluten-free for the dogs) and cupcakes.

I had the pleasure of spending 13, wonderful years with the most wonderful teacher, helper and friend. Even though we had our ups and downs, I would never change a thing.

Phoenix always lived his life on his own terms, so it’s fitting to think, that he left this life on his own terms.

Though I still miss him every day, I know he’s happier and healthier in his new home.

Rest in peace my mellow, yellow, fellow.

Achieving The Confidence

As mentioned in this post, the topic for this round of the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is “achievement”. I have been racking my brain for weeks, trying to figure out what to write about.

I finally came up with the perfect idea.

I’ll write about how I achieved the confidence to begin raising and training my future guide dog.

Are you ready?

Here we go…

On Friday, May 27th, 2005, I was matched with a spunky female black lab named Cessna. From the start, we struggled. She had so much spirit and an endless amount of energy. When she wanted to go, there was really no stopping her. When I wanted to just chill out, she couldn’t figure out what she was supposed to be doing. Cessna’s work was always 100%, but she pulled like a steam roller, and jumped around like a kangaroo when she saw other dogs and small critters. I tried using all of the training methods I had been taught while in class, but our progress was slow and at times seemed to move backwards. To add to our troubles, Cessna had some unknown fears and emotional trauma, which would leave me scratching my head, wondering what I could have possibly done to cause such a reaction.

Fast-forward almost three years.

On Saturday, March 1st, 2008, the Director of Autism Dog Services, brought a 10 week old caramel colour lab to our home. With all of the struggles and challenges I had overcome with Cessna, I felt we could use our knowledge to raise a puppy for a young child with autism. Aiden was a big goof. He had an amazing personality and loved to please everyone. We taught him so much within such a short amount of time. People used to stop and watch us in malls, smiling at the four month old puppy, performing his favourite tricks (roll over, give five and show your belly). By the time Aiden was approaching 7 months of age, we started to search for more direction and training ideas for new skills. This is when I began my training sessions with Dogs In The Park.
Aiden and I participated in the weekly “stay classes”, while Cessna joined me for “Levels”. Aiden had the most reliable “stays” of all his fellow ADS trainees, and I learned how to teach him complex skills and tricks, such as some of Cessna’s more basic guiding commands. By the time aiden was recalled for formal training, on Friday, February 6th, 2009, he was able to confidently leash guide me, throughout our neighbourhood and within quiet stores to find Huib. It was at this point, when the Director of Autism Dog Services, suggested that I think about raising and training Cessna’s successor.

This thought sat in the back of my mind for over a year and a half.

On Saturday, February 14th, 2009, Huib and I went to a small kennel in St. Agatha, Ontario, to pick up our second ADS foster puppy, Reece. Cessna and I had been participating in the weekly Levels classes for almost 7 months at this point. Our relationship was flourishing, and I had learned new ways of working with her, that did not include leash corrections or any other forceful methods. We began our raising adventures with Reece, trying to closely follow the new training methods I’d learned through my time with Sue Alexander. We used his lunchtime meals for training and taught him everything using the clicker and praise. Reece wasn’t as quick as Aiden in the learning department, but his trainer was delighted with his weekly progress. With aiden we found it next to impossible to teach him loose leash walking, so with Reece, we worked on leash walking from day one. By the time Reece was six months old, he was able to walk on a loose leash with anyone. Unfortunately, around this time he began to develop a limp which seemed to be coming from his left front elbow. It took the program staff five months to make the decision to wash him out.

On Friday, December 18th, 2009, Huib and I picked up a 6 month old male golden retriever from a Mennonite farm in Chesley, Ontario. Canyon (formerly Sparky) had absolutely no name recognition or manners. He mouthed, jumped up on everything, relieved indoors and would pace when he was nervous. We spent the first week teaching him his name and what the clicker meant. We then moved on to teaching him to sit through “capturing”. We knew he loved going outside, so would wait for him to sit before clicking and opening the door as his reward. Once he was sitting reliably, we named the behaviour and started to use it at other times, like before meals and when he’d go to jump up onto something or someone. Through using solely the clicker and treats/praise, we found our relationship with Canyon grew quickly, and his fears subsided easily. Over the next year and a bit, I taught Canyon all of his basic obedience commands without the use of anything other than the clicker and treats. I also continued to work on training with Cessna, teaching her to do various tasks at a distance and expanding her use of the “touch” cue.

During the winter of 2010 and 2011, I began working with a trainer to learn more skills and to try and expand my training knowledge. Through these lessons, I learned how to teach Canyon to turn right and left with a simple gesture, and how to better teach him to walk on a loose leash. Training an older dog, compared to a young puppy, can be a bit more of a challenge. The Border Collie Lady taught me how to do things differently in order to move past some of the obstacles we’d encountered.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to see what Canyon had truly learned through our lessons with the Border Collie Lady. He walked calmly and confidently at my side through the St. Jacob’s Market while Cessna guided us around people and vendor tables. It was such an awesome feeling to be able to smoothly walk through the market with two dogs at my side. He even surprised me at one point when he showed a desire to try some fire escape-like stairs that Huib was showing Rogue and my friend Karen was coaxing her 13 month old foster puppy up. I handed the leash over to Huib and Canyon walked up and down the stairs as if he’d done them a million times.

In February of this year, I learned that Cessna had begun to develop cataracts in both eyes. It was at this point, when I decided to seriously look into raising and training her successor. I researched breeds, looking at the golden retriever, flat-coated retriever and Labrador retriever. After deciding on the lab, I started researching breeders in Ontario. I e-mailed close to 10 different ones, before settling on Red Labrador Retrievers, a small kennel in Maidstone, Ontario.

We picked up our 11.8lbs, female butterscotch colour lab on Friday, June 10th, 2011.

I’m honestly not sure I would have made such a decision if I had not been matched with my little black firecracker. Through my struggles with her, and experiences with Aiden, Reece and Canyon, I’ve learned tons and developed self-confidence.

I’m hoping Cessna will never stop challenging me to become a better person, and that she will help me teach Rogue how to walk in her shoes.

Six Months Old

Rogue is now 6 months old!

It’s hard to believe that she’s already been a part of our family for 125 days.

We’ve done a lot in those four months and she’s grown and matured tons.

Yesterday we took Rogue into Englehart and weighed her at the vet clinic. She now weighs 44.7lbs, which means she has gained almost 10lbs since September 13th. Her puppy coat no longer fits, so we are taking a bit of a break from public outings so that Huib has time to make her new one. He’s been quite busy with work, so hasn’t really had any time for anything other than sleep.

Since we misplaced our camera, I thought I’d share a picture of her brother Snickers. Snickers lives near Toronto, Ontario and weighs just under 50lbs.

Snickers at 6 weeks

Snickers at 6 months