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.