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.

Christmas 2010

This year my friend and her son came to visit for the holidays. Caleb came on the 17th and is staying until after new Years, but his mom arrived on the 23rd and left on Monday. It was an eventful few days, full of memories and first time experiences.

Here are some pictures of Caleb posing in different kid’s rides during our visit to the North Bay mall for some last minute gifts.

Taz isn’t much into the whole Christmas thing so instead of buying her a gift we took her and Caleb dog sledding near Timmins. Dog Sledding Adventures is run by a man named Shane who has about 21 greyhound like huskies. I cannot totally remember the breed or if they are actually husky greyhound crosses, but if anyone knows from the pictures please let me know. Shane started his dog sledding career in Whistler as a guide and instantly fell in love with the sport. When he decided to move from Whistler back to the Timmins area where he grew up, he made an agreement with the company owner and brought about 6-10 dogs back. The snow conditions on Friday were on the faster side so Shane only hooked up 7 dogs to our sled. We had – coconut (leader), Shooter, Mr. Penguin, Dora, Doughnut, Madison, and Mr. Deeds – most of our team were from his Adam Sandler crew. The dogs were extremely excited about the upcoming run so barked and whined constantly until they were hooked up and told to go. It was amazing to see how focused they get and then as the run goes on how tired they become from the concentration. Each of us got a chance to ride in the sled while Shane directed the dogs and taught us all the necessary commands and features of the sled itself. Then Shane stood off to the side and let us take one another for rides during the next 45 minutes. In total we spent 2 hours with the dogs and it was amazing! Shane told me that the next time I came to bring Cessna and Canyon and he would hook them up with his dogs to the sled and I’d see how well they took to the exercise. It wasn’t overly expensive and I had so much fun that I will for sure be returning later in the winter.

My sister and step-dad came over that evening and we had dinner and opened presents. Brandi had to work all weekend so we had our Christmas get together a little early. At first Brandi wasn’t in a great mood, but as the evening progressed her mood improved. Dinner was delicious and dessert was even better – Caleb and I made both a plain and a toffee chip cheesecake.

This year for Christmas from Brandi I got a Tassimo coffee maker, season four of Dexter, a Glee calendar, Starbucks coffee, and an I.O.U. for pajamas. I absolutely love my coffee maker and can’t wait until we get some cappuccino, hot chocolate, and latte pods for it. Dad gave both Huib and I a hundred dollars and Taz bought us the game Rock Star Life. Huib and I decided not to buy one another gifts since there tends to be more sales during the weeks after Christmas and it’s more fun to go on shopping sprees.

We didn’t do too much during the weekend, but enjoyed one another’s company and exercised the dogs. On Saturday we took everyone for an hour and fifteen minute walk and then yesterday went for a two mile walk in the opposite direction. Taz really enjoyed seeing our home and the areas around where we live. Right now it’s beautiful up here – tons of snow and animal tracks everywhere.

We really enjoyed having Taz and Caleb here for Christmas and hope they’ll join us again next year.

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

Winter Is Here!

It’s been snowing pretty much the entire week and the dogs are absolutely loving it. I have fun going out with them and watching their games of chase around the snow piles and well, which is also covered in snow too. I think they look forward to this time of year because they can run around like crazy nuts and if they fall in the process, it doesn’t hurt.

Aspen and Cessna like digging in the snow, seeing if they can find something – a toy or maybe a little critter. Canyon likes wrestling with them, but he’s usually the one who ends up on his back. Even though he’s not neutered and a bit of a pushy dog, he seems to accept Cessna’s authority and will submit to her without any real effort on her part. His favourite game though is to play fetch. No matter how cold it is or how much snow is falling, he just has to go outside for even a 10 minute game before he can truly relax. It’s nice not having to keep him on a lunge line or flexi leash because I can throw the toy as far as possible and usually tire him out within 15-20 throws. Aspen will try and get to the toy before him, but she really only has a chance when he’s nearing the end of his energy burst or when I decide to practice stays with him. Phoenix isn’t into playing anymore, but likes to walk around the yard and check out the various smells and poop piles (I know he’s disgusting!). Since his diagnosis of Idiopathic Vestibular Disease though, he hasn’t really been given much of a chance to walk around the yard on his own, but over the past few days we’ve let him roam since the snow will cushion any fall he might have. We just follow behind and make sure the others don’t knock him over – they don’t really seem to notice a difference in him, which seems strange to me.

Picture of canyon resting his head on the back seat of the truck.

I can’t believe Santa Paws will be here in just over 12 days!

Until the next time we write, be safe and have some fun in the snow!!

“Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together.” – Vesta M. Kelly

My 31st Birthday

On Monday, (the 29th) I turned 31. A lot of my friends and even my sister complain about getting older, but I don’t see a problem with it. I’ve had an interesting life so far and am excited to see what the future holds.

A week before my birthday Huib and I went shopping in timmins and he bought me a new white winter vest along with four long-sleeved shirts – poppy red, dark brown, plum & teal. My sister knew I needed a new watch so when we went to Toronto during our trip to take Phoenix to the vet she bought me one from the cnib – where we had stopped to look around and buy some Braille playing cards & a slate with stylus. This year for Christmas I want to Braille a message in our cards along with the print above it (which will of course be done by Huib).

On Friday, (the 26th) we piled Cessna, Canyon and our stuff into the truck for a trip “down south” as my sister likes to say. Phoenix and Aspen stayed home with my step-dad and the cats. We did tons of shopping and visiting with friends. On my birthday we attended a puppy potluck – a bunch of friends got together with each of our respective dogs for a play & social gathering. We were responsible for bringing dessert so Huib agreed on a chocolate chip cookie dough blizzard cake from Dairy Queen. I don’t think anyone actually knew until just before that it was my birthday so it kinda just worked out that we were able to bring a cake of my choice to celebrate. When we arrived everyone acted as though nothing was special, but when it was dessert time they gave me a cool homemade sailor’s hat to wear and sang Happy Birthday to me – it was so unexpected! I absolutely loved the blizzard cake and am delighted to share that this year I actually didn’t have to pretend to like a cake I didn’t!!

Overall my 31st birthday was a great one and now I can’t wait for Christmas to come!

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.

A Little Help With Training

On Monday we headed down to Waterloo for a brief visit. We took all four of the dogs as well as my sister because she wanted to see her friend from school and Phoenix had to go to the vet and have his ear flap drained. Just over a week ago Phoenix’s left ear flap became swollen with blood and it looked as though someone had inserted an egg into it. We had a short phone consult with the vet and were told we could wait until Monday to see her because it wasn’t life threatening and it didn’t seem to be bothering him. After draining the ear, she put it onto his head and bandaged him up so that he won’t be able to shake it and hopefully in a week or so all will be healed. We chose bright orange vet wrap for the bandage and have a roll of purple and teal for when we change it in a day or so. I’ll try and post pictures with this entry at a later date when Huib can hook up our external monitor with the laptop since the monitor is currently cracked and he’s unable to use it.

On Monday evening we went to see a woman named Debby DaCosta in Vanessa for some dog training direction (www.thepoodlefarm.com). I have been trying to follow the training methods I was taught while attending sessions at Dogs In the Park with Cessna, as well as, follow the suggestions on Sue Ailsbey’s clicker training website, but I had run into some road blocks that I couldn’t get around. After talking to a friend who does rally obedience with her former ADS foster puppy (Ace) I contacted Debby. Debby judges rally obedience and has poodles of all sizes who have achieved a wide array of competition titles. We have been in contact over e-mail for the past few weeks and she’s been trying to give me suggestions, but after a 2 hour session with her one-on-one I feel as though I am now ready to work past these road blocks.

Debby uses solely positive training methods and tries to keep her sessions (with her dogs) short and fun. She promotes the use of treats and toys and suggests using your time in the washroom or kitchen for training – taking 10 treats and a dog into the room and focusing on one behavior, like touch, “take it” and “give it”, or teaching tug (for example). She went over how to motivate Canyon to give me what I want and how to work past his more stubborn moments. We had only planned to meet an hour, but 2 hours just flew by and Canyon seemed to be having a blast. It was nice to have Huib and my sister watching so they could hear what Debby told me about not asking for behaviours repetitively but just taking his collar and waiting for him to give it to us, how it was important not to use words like “heel” without taking the time to teach it properly (she said to use his easy walk when we’re not able to take the time to train & just the collar when we’re actually going to take the time) or how it was important to always give him the release word when we were done “work”. At the end she went over how to begin teaching Canyon to heel and how to teach the “front” and “finish” behaviours we’ll need for obedience trials. I have lots to work on now and have already begun our bathroom training sessions 

We’ll be going back to Waterloo for a week on the 26th, but I’m not yet sure if I’ll meet with Debby or continue working on what she’s taught me and meet with her in January. I got an e-mail from her yesterday and was surprised to see her praise of my training abilities and future hopes for Canyon.

I look forward to working with her in the future and think I’ll be able to enter canyon in his first obedience trial real soon – it all depends on the paperwork though…

“The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.” – Oprah Winfrey

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.”