At Least Phoenix Is On the Mend

On Sunday, Huib and I piled the dogs into the truck for a short trip “down south”. We arrived in Guelph around noon and picked up some food and toys for everyone before meeting with the show handler who was interested in showing Canyon for us. The meeting went well and Peter was quite happy with Canyon’s looks, confidence and his ability to walk on a leash. We were surprised about the leash part since we had just begun his lessons, but Peter was impressed and wanted to enter him into the upcoming Sudbury show at the end of March. After the meeting we got back into the truck and headed into Kitchener.

There, we took Canyon and Cessna to a CERF clinic the Kitchener-Waterloo Kennel Club was hosting. We had originally signed up to have just canyon’s eyes tested, but when they learned Cessna was a dog guide we were told hers could be done for free. First Canyon went in and we were told he has scarring on his retinas. The ophthalmologist doesn’t think it is congenital, but he said we will need to do some research on that. He feels the scarring was most likely caused by an infection during the first few weeks of life and said that his litter mates will also have the scarring. Even though this does not officially bar Canyon from breeding, we have decided to forgo both showing and breeding because with this defect there is a very low chance another breeder would want to use him. Instead, we will work on some sporting and obedience titles while looking for our next breeding candidate.

After this disheartening news, it was Cessna’s turn. The ophthalmologist dilated her eyes and found 2 tiny cataracts on her left eye and three on her right. This particular doctor is one of the ones LFC uses to test their puppy’s at 10 months of age so he was well aware of the demands I put on Cessna. He showed Huib the cataracts and told us that they are tiny so Cessna probably doesn’t even notice them and her work will not be effected. He wants to see her in a year and thinks there is a possibility the cataracts won’t get any bigger. We saw our vet the following day and she recommended we start her on a homeopathic regiment and try to prevent them from getting worse. There’s no guarantees it will do anything, but it would bother me even more if I didn’t do it and it could have worked.

Phoenix saw the vet on Monday and was given a clean bill of health for his age. Dr B was impressed with his progress and has given him a homeopathic remedy to try and jump start his immune system and hopefully rid him of the ear issue for good. In order to check him out and watch him move she had him examined in the waiting room because he was able to walk on carpet for traction and seemed to stay quite calm and relaxed. I’m so glad she was able to tell us something good, because I’m not sure I could handle anymore bad news in a 24 hour period. After the appointment we took him to see his puppy raisers and they were also quite happy with his progress. The last time they had seen him was just before we took him to dr b for the IVD diagnosis. Huib had carried him in and I explained what had happened and what we were most afraid of learning – that we may have to say good-bye.

On Tuesday it was my turn to see the ophthalmologist and I also learned some not so happy news – my distance vision is gone. The doctor’s assistant asked me to read various lines on the eye chart and I couldn’t read even the biggest letter. The doctor isn’t sure why this has happened, but has ordered a lumbar puncture to be done in a week and is checking to make sure there is no inter cranial pressure or infection. This is yet another part of my vision saga. While we were at the hospital, Phoenix, Aspen and Canyon stayed with a friend and her daycare kids. My friend said Aspen and Canyon weren’t overly interested in them, but Phoenix wandered into the playroom at some point and when she went to check on everything she found him in the circle of little ones with a teacup and saucer between his paws. I guess the kids decided he should participate in their tea party – I sure wish my friend had gotten a picture! I guess they had tried doing the same with Canyon, but he wouldn’t stay still, so decided to let Phoenix in on the fun.

We headed home that evening and made a stop in Bradford to see my friend Heather, her fiance and her border terrier Harley. The dogs enjoyed playing with Harley’s rawhide bones and ran around in the yard, but Harley wasn’t as sure – I guess she was a little overwhelmed by the number of big dogs that came into the house. Overall our trip “down south” was crappy, but at least we got a chance to see friends and find out how Phoenix is doing.

Pedigree

This entry has been revised after receiving a comment which pointed out that a statement made previously was unproven – thank you for making me aware of this discrepancy.

On Monday I received an e-mail from Canyon’s sire’s breeder to inform me that she had put all of his information on K9data a website that helps a breeder look at a registered golden or labrador’s pedigree. I had learned about this website a few months ago when researching golden retriever breeders and was hoping that once I received the transfer paperwork for Canyon from the Canadian Kennel Club that I’d be able to enter Canyon’s information. If you are interested in looking at it, you can GO HERE. I’m excited about this development because it means we’re just one step closer to fulfilling our dream of having canyon perform stud services.

After getting this e-mail I began thinking about pedigree and how important it is to look at when considering the breeding process. I was looking at the Blackpool Golden Retrievers website and they give a checklist of things to consider or ask when looking at a kennel or potential puppy. In this checklist they explain that some breeders will try and hide their dog’s lineage in order to hide inbreeding or that they might have gotten their dogs from puppy mills, so to look for breeders who list their dog’s pedigree on their websites. Blackpool sites k9data as a place where they have registered their stock and explain that you can not only find their dog’s lineage, but also their longevity and health clearances.

In an earlier post I discussed the theory behind line breeding so I won’t do it again here, but from my research on the effects of inbreeding on a line, it has been found that the progeny often become weak, small and timid. Some breeders will use this method to fix a specific trait, but given the results, I see line breeding as a much more effective method for fixing traits.

I’m not sure what brought me to write this entry, but I guess all this excitement surrounding Canyon’s paperwork finally arriving and now having him registered on k9data has just got me interested even more on learning all I can about the breeding process. I’ll close this post by saying;

Pedigree equals Quality – Reputable breeders follow a set of breed standards (set by the Canadian Kennel Club in Canada) in order to ensure the best quality dogs go on to be the parents of the next generation.

Finally!!!

Some very exciting news to share with everyone. Canyon’s Canadian Kennel club paperwork has arrived!! It has been a long year of constantly e-mailing his sire’s breeder to get it done, but it’s been worth it.

Canyon is such a “diamond in the rough” and the delay has given us a chance to polish him up and see him shine.

Now that we have the official ownership transfer, we can begin some serious training and hopefully competing in the near future!!

“I’m going to stop procrastinating…once I get around to it.”

Decisions, decisions

This year I’ve decided to take part in the Assistance Dog blog Carnival and the topic is decisions. Over the past 15 years I’ve had to make many decisions in regards to applying for, working with, retiring, and then raising an assistance dog. Not many people can actually say they’ve been involved in all areas of the service dog experience, but here’s my story.

In the summer of 1993 my shunt (a tube which runs from my brain into my abdomen) blocked. This caused the cerebral fluid around my brain to build up and create pressure which damaged my optic nerves. In a matter of a couple weeks, I went from seeing 20/20 to seeing nothing out of my left eye and only through 3 pin holes in the very centre of my right. It was tough at first, but I had the support of an amazing vision teacher who re-taught me everything from completing daily tasks to getting around the world with a white cane, in addition to a mother who refused to see me any different from the daughter she had given birth to 13 years prior. Now that I’ve laid out some background information to my story, let’s move on to the day I decided to apply for my first guide.

From the first day I was introduced to the white cane I knew I had to get rid of it. I hated the way it felt in my hand, the way people looked at me, the ways it limited me, and well….it was just plain ugly! I made a point of telling my vision teacher this almost every time we had a lesson until the day she told me about guide dogs. I had always wanted a pet dog and to know there was a way of both getting rid of my cane and having a dog of my own, I told her I’d do anything she wanted. She told me that if I worked hard over the next couple of years she’d help me convince my parents to let me get a dog and that she’d help me with the application. It was a long 3 years, but finally in January of 1997 my vision teacher and I began researching programs and decided on the Lions foundation of Canada Dog Guides because it was close to my hometown (Aurora, Ontario) and because the classes were small. I received my first guide, Gryphon, in August of that year and put my white cane on the shelf forever.

Gryphon was a 21 month old tall, slim, male black labrador retriever who weighed about 81lbs. We were matched around August 1st of 1997 and worked together for only a year. Gryphon was not the right dog for me, but he worked well and the trainers felt he was a good fit for a young first time handler, who just happened to be the youngest they’d ever accepted into the program. Gryphon was a great dog and he taught me tons, but we never bonded the way a working team should so, when he was career changed after only a year I wasn’t too upset. Gryphon had become traffic shy after an altercation with a car in Toronto and both the trainers at LFC and myself were unable to get him past his fears. He was later retrained as a special Skills Dog and worked for a while before being retired for health reasons.

Phoenix and I were matched in July of 1998 and worked together for almost 7 years. I remember our time in class together, he was only 20 months and full of personality. From day one he has always had his opinions on how things should be done and has never been afraid to let me know what he’s thinking. We attended my final year of high school together and then completed an entire honors degree at the University of Guelph. Phoenix had severe separation anxiety until he retired so accompanied me on excursions I’d never dream of taking Cessna to – a packed Montreal night club, the outdoor Walkerton Country Music Festival or full day visits to Canada’s Wonderland, just to name a few. Phoenix was always faithful and willing to work at any hour and in any environment, but at the age of 8 and a half he began slowing down and wanting to just chill at home rather than work, so I knew it was time for retirement. It was a hard decision because we had developed such a bond and I worried about hurting his feelings by getting a new guide to replace him. But, most of all I worried about the training process and the hardships involved in bonding with a new working companion.

Cessna and I were matched on May 27th, 2005. She was not truly ready to be responsible for a blind person but the trainers had confidence in my abilities and saw the chemistry between us. Cessna was only 18 months so had tons of maturing left to do. She barked at other dogs out of excitement, jumped around like a kangaroo when she saw squirrels or birds and couldn’t settle in my social work classes without a long run beforehand. This crazy, immature puppy is long gone and has been replaced by a mature, sensitive companion who desires to learn more everyday. Over the past 5 years Cessna and I have worked hard to understand what each other needs and have become a dream team.

With all the skills and experience I obtained “training” Cessna, I began looking for other learning opportunities and learned about Autism Dog Services. Huib and I had talked about what it would be like to raise an assistance puppy and had even gone as far as asking the LFC for a puppy to foster. We were told that instead of having to explain to some clients why they couldn’t raise a puppy when others could, that they had made it their policy to refuse everyone, but they said nothing was stopping us from fostering for another organization. Autism Dog Services was started by a former LFC trainer whom I knew from training with Gryphon and Phoenix. A couple LFC foster families we knew began raising puppies for ADS and suggested we contact them to see if we could also be of help. After a few e-mails back and forth we made the decision to welcome a 10 week old caramel coloured Labrador retriever into our home on March 1st, 2008.

We fostered Aiden until he was 13 months of age and began raising Reece in February of 2009. Our experience with autism Dog Services was both gratifying and heart aching. We loved having Aiden and Reece in our home and are thankful to have been given the opportunity to help ADS in providing independence and safety to children with autism, but this experience has also left us with some lessons. We don’t regret our decision to help raise Aiden and Reece for Autism Dog Services, but wish this experience didn’t have to be another hat placed on the shelf of tough lessons learned.

Since cutting our ties with autism Dog Services we made the decision to purchase a male golden retriever in December of 2009 and raise him as our future stud dog and obedience champion. Canyon is not a service dog, but he has taught me further lessons about loyalty and thinking outside the box. He will go for his health clearances in June and hopefully begin producing offspring who will carry on his temperament and lust for life and who knows, maybe one of them will become an assistance dog in the future.

Has It Really been a Year Already?

On December 18th, 2009 Huib, Cessna and I drove to a small Mennonite farm about 20 minutes from Hanover to pick up a 6.5 month old male golden retriever. It had been just over a month and a half since we decided not to adopt Reece and I was really finding the house a little quiet, so I decided to check out a golden breeder’s website. After a couple e-mails back and forth we set up a pick-up time and date for our new bundle of gold.

When we first met Canyon (formerly Sparky) he was wet, dirty, smelled like a barn and was pulling his breeder’s 6 year old son across the yard to greet us. I remember thinking, “what are we getting ourselves into?”

Over the past year Canyon has:
• Learned all of his basic obedience commands & is working on loose leash walking
• Learned to swim, dive off the dock & retrieve a toy or stick
• Learned to give 5 & is working on give 10
• Visited residents in long-term care homes
• Visited a friend’s daughter in Toronto’s Sick Children’s Hospital
• Been to Toronto numerous times
• Stayed at a hotel in Sudbury
• Attended both Summer and Winter Woofstocks

This year has been one of learning important skills, experiencing new environments and preparing for the future. Our smelly, disobedient puppy has been replaced with a well-mannered, good looking stud and future obedience champion.

“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.” – Martin Buber

In It For The Money

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been considering a new addition to our pack – a female golden retriever puppy. I find that whenever our pack gets comfortable and easy to deal with, I get bored and begin looking for new ways of spicing it up. This is why fostering puppies was good, when the puppy began settling well into our routines and they began to only need refinement – it was recall time and a new one entered the pack. Sadly, because of personal differences (that I still don’t understand) fostering isn’t an option right now so maybe a future breeding female of my own? I’ve been tossing the idea around and seeing what Huib says, but so far he isn’t taking the bait so I guess I’ll have to continue researching and wait until he gives the okay to proceed.

Now that I’ve explained the background to this post, I’ll move onto the point of the title. I’ve been looking at various breeder’s websites and looking at the pedigrees of their stocks and how they portray themselves and what sorts of things they do with their dogs. I’m not interested in a breeder who houses their dogs in a kennel and does nothing with them other than facilitating the mating process and then whelping the puppies. I’m drawn to those breeders who have their stock as a part of the family and who work towards not just confirmation titles, but fun ones like obedience, agility, field work, etc. I want a puppy who wasn’t just the product of a “breed standard” pair, but one that has a “working” lineage (for lack of a better description). Canyon’s dam (LB’s Golden Pot of gold) was more a family pet than a “working” dog and his sire (Kashuba’s Ramblin Blaze N Time) only has his confirmation title, so he’s got the golden personality and looks, but nothing further. That is why I’m determined to work with Canyon at not just attaining his confirmation title, but also an obedience title or more if possible.


Canyon at 4 or 5 months of age

One breeder I’ve found appealing so far is www.quinleighblugoldens.net because their dogs live in the home as part of the family and each of them has attained or is working towards a title other than confirmation. This is the type of breeder I’d like to be someday and hope that Canyon will be my ticket to starting this dream. After looking at their stock’s pedigrees I decided on a specific pair I’d like a puppy from and wrote to a friend for their opinion since they have a vast knowledge on breeding. She pointed out that one downfall of this breeding stock is that none have been line bred and explained that I should be looking for a breeder who has done this.


Aspen with her half sister Moose (same stud)

According to a Google search I learned that line breeding is the breeding of animals who share common ancestors, but are not closely related. For example they may share a common great-grandparent. This type of breeding is used to help “set” or “fix” desireable traits. In addition to breeding related individuals genes from other lines are also being introduced into the mix. This method of “fixing” desireable traits takes longer, but helps to avoid the issues associated with in-breeding.

She suggested a couple of breeders to look at and I quickly decided on one over the other. This breeder www.setherwood.com, has their dogs live with the family and has worked with them to obtain more than just confirmation titles – in addition to their stock being absolutely adoreable of course. I could see myself purchasing one of their puppies in the future.

The other breeder she suggested, has a nice stock, but the second I read through their site I noticed an air of “I’m in it for the money” and this completely turns me off. Their dogs live in a kennel-setting and have mainly just confirmation titles, but they are now working on hunting titles which shows desire to improve. But, litters are listed according to “bitches” and “dogs”, “companion” and “show”, and there doesn’t seem to be that love and connection with the dogs that other breeders I’ve looked at put forth. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe they just have a professional way of designing the website, but I just happened to see a 3-year old dog who had been returned and was looking for a home on the site so wrote to learn more.

My sister is hoping to get a golden of her own so has put her name in with Golden Rescue for a potential match and I’ve also been looking at breeder’s to see if I can find her another “Canyon”. When I received a message back, I was directed to fill out the puppy application. I did this and then received a “you’ve been accepted” e-mail so wrote to ask more questions about the little guy. I learned that he had been returned due to a divorce in the family and was a “reasonable” house guest. It was suggested I come visit with him and that there was an 11 month old who had been recently returned for similar reasons. Before agreeing to visit, I asked about the fee and about whether he had his vaccinations up-to-date and was neutered. They wrote back to say the fee was $1000 plus taxes and that they had a “non-neutering” claus in their contracts, attaching an almost 10 year old paper to the e-mail that had been written about the risks of neutering – hypo-thyroidism and something else that I cannot remember at this time. I wrote back to say I felt $1000 plus taxes was an unreasonable amount to ask for a 3-year old dog who had been returned and that in addition to asking for this astronomical amount they were telling me he could not be neutered – even if we so desired. They simply wrote back to say “I’m sorry you feel this way”. This exchange left me feeling that I am correct with my first impression that they are “in it for the money” and will erase them as a potential place to purchase my next puppy.

I don’t want to support breeders who are “in it for the money”, I don’t agree with this attitude and therefore will not promote it, even if their stock is close to meeting the “breed standards” and come with a 3-year guarantee. I would rather support the “family” operation where the dogs are part of the home and lead a fulfilling life of not just producing puppies, but also working with their “people” to attain various competition titles. I’m not saying this breeder is terrible, it’s just what I’ve observed, experience and feel.

Canyon Update


We are still waiting for canyon’s CKc paperwork to arrive, but are hoping it will come soon so we can enter our first obedience trial in November – if Huib’s work schedule allows for that to happen….

Each day I’ve been spending time with Canyon to try and decrease his response time – at this point he’ll sit or lie down immediately if both a verbal and hand signal are used and as long as nothing more interesting is happening around us. I’ve been trying to do a lot of my training during games of fetch – since he’s much more toy motivated than food – getting him to sit, lie down stay until another dog retrieves the toy or stand before I give him the release command and throw the toy. He does well at the staying in a down until Aspen or Cessna brings back the toy (my attempt at teaching him a little self-control), but we still need to work on his immediate obeying of sit, down or stand before being released to play. Since we tend to play fetch for about 15-20 minutes 2-3 times a day, I think Canyon’s obedience response times will soon become immediate rather than occurring after sometimes being asked several times. I know I should just wait him out, but he’s almost just as stubborn as me so after a minute I give in and ask again…

We had Canyon at the vet last week for his rabies vaccine and discussed future breeding. Our vet told us to continue what we’re doing for now and she’ll refer us to the Ontario Veterinary College in June since they would rather not perform health clearances until he’s 2 years of age. This gives us tons of time to make our final decision as to whether we’d like to breed him and to work towards an obedience title or two. We haven’t heard anything from the professional hanlder we wrote a few weeks ago, so at the advice of an acquaintance I’m going to pursue alternative avenues for help with Canyon’s confirmation.

It is really an exciting time for me as I can actually begin to see myself entering an obedience trial with my handsome stud muffin

To Show, Or Not To Show…

Over the past 8 months Canyon has grown up to be handsome, confident and a great companion. When we got him in December we signed a contract saying we would not neuter him until he was a year of age, which was on June 3rd – almost 3 months ago now. Over the past couple of months Huib and I have been considering a change in our non-breeding contract, because given Canyon’s looks and temperament we really think it would be a loss to neuter him and have him to just be a regular pet. We have discussed our thoughts with the breeder (Judi Ford of Ramblin Goldens) of his sire (Kashuba’s Ramblin Blaze N Time) and she seems quite supportive of us changing our original plans and helping us where possible.

Some breeders seem really focused on titles so I guess we should consider this for our golden boy…especially if we want some business for our future stud.

Both Huib and I don’t really know much about the whole show dog world – just what we’ve seen on television – so we talked to Judi and she gave us the names of a couple handlers she has used for Blaze and another of her dogs, Gracie (Dove Cottage Grace Under Fire). I have sent an e-mail out to one of them (colin Brownlee) and am awaiting his response. We have not completely decided yet, whether we’ll show Canyon, but at least we’ve started the process. I guess our biggest concern is the effect the show ring atmosphere might have on our golden boy. He’s so laid back and has an extremely soft temperament – will the breeding change this? We’re also not wanting our training methods to change – we’ve used absolutely no collar corrections and have tried to teach him everything through shaping and praise (he actually rarely ever wears a collar at all). Will another person (even if it is just for the show ring) be willing to continue what we’ve started?

Last night I wasn’t really tired and did some research on confirmation and obedience trials. I’ve been informed by fellow dog owners that my visual impairment might cause issues in showing Canyon myself – this is why we’ve decided to look for someone else to help. After reading several websites on showing a dog, I’ve come to realize that Canyon might have a difficult time in the ring because the number one suggestion on every site is that you not teach your dog to sit… When we got Canyon (at 6.5 months) he had a bad habit of jumping up and barging through doors, so we taught him to sit in an effort to eliminate these behaviours. Now I’m stuck wondering if maybe this was not such a good idea after all.

When reading some other websites on obedience titles though, I realized that it would be silly for me not to work towards having Canyon attain at least his Novice (CD). So today I did some refresher reading on clicker training and have decided to try and slowly work through Sue Ailsby’s training levels. I worked on these a year ago with Cessna, almost getting her through level three, but we are a little rusty now.

So, tomorrow’s lesson for Canyon is clicker sensitizing (might not be the right word) and doggie zen. Maybe I’ll even start working through the levels with Cessna again – can’t hurt right? Stay tuned for updates!

“Don’t be afraid to reach for the moon because even if you don’t succeed you’ll still be one of the stars.”