Just For Her

Today I’ve decided to write a post dedicated solely to Cessna. Today isn’t our anniversary. It isn’t really a special day at all, but last night her and I had such an amazing informal training session that I needed to write about it.

Huib and I had just planned to practice the touch command with Canyon, in addition to the formal “front” (couldn’t find a good link), but after a frustrating session I decided to bring Cessna into the kitchen for some fun.

I started out with some basic stuff; sit, down, speak, “give five” and stand – with Huib clicking and me giving her the treat only if she did it immediately. After a few minutes of this, I moved on to getting her to “touch” my hand. We first learned this a couple of years ago when I was taking classes with dogs In the Park so it’s something we often practice during our impromptu training sessions. So far I’ve only expanded the cue to get her to ring a bell, we attached to our sliding door, when she needs to go out or to get her to show me where I’ve dropped something I don’t want her picking up. She only does the “touch” with her nose at the moment, but I’m hoping to get her doing a “touch” with her paw (but with a new name).

But, back to our session… so after she’d done some very basic hand touches, I decided to try something a little different. Huib went and got a piece of navy blue duct tape and I proceeded to stick it to the wall around her nose level. I had her sit and then asked her to “touch” – pointing to the piece of tape. She ran over and bumped the spot with her nose, Huib clicked and I gave her 3 treats with an excited “Good Girl!!” we did this a couple more times and then I asked her to sit and wait again while I moved the target to a spot just a bit higher up. Again I asked her to “touch” and pointed to the spot of navy blue tape. She ran over and hit it with no trouble whatsoever! After a couple practice rounds, she looked up at me as if to ask “what now?” Since she’d breezed through the last two challenges I decided to up the ante and proceeded to stick the tape to the wall around my shoulders, while she sat and waited for the release. I wasn’t sure she’d be able to reach or if she’d even attempt the request, but I asked her if she was ready and then said “touch” in an excited voice, while pointing. Her first attempt was more of a sniff, but she still got a click and treat for trying. Before asking for it again, I told her to sit so she’d calm down a bit and regain her focus – she can get a little exuberant when she knows she’s doing a good job. When she appeared more relaxed, I asked her to “touch” in an excited voice and pointed to the spot again. She ran over to the wall, put her paws up and did it!!! She put her nose right to the centre of the target. Huib clicked the second her nose made contact and I gave her a hand full of treats while we did a happy dance.

I’m hoping to use this new “development” to move onto more useful things like turning off lights, opening/closing doors, and who knows what else – the sky’s the limit! Cessna and I have been together for almost six years, but she still continues to amaze me with her overwhelming desire to learn new things. Huib’s been working on teaching her to pick up her toys and put them into the toy bin, which is another skill we can utilize and expand. She’s been picking up things and giving them to us for years, so we thought we might as well teach her something more she can do with it. I’ll continue to work on her targeting, but may also start teaching her to use her tugging abilities for more than play – maybe some bedroom door opening lessons?? I know Cessna isn’t a Special Skills Dog Guide, but she enjoys learning, so why not teach her some extra skills, right?

Maybe at a later date I’ll write about all the extra skills she currently possesses.

Vision returning

Over the past week my vision has begun returning to it’s original state, at least the state it was after the age of 13. It’s been a long, slow process, but I’m not complaining because it’s coming back!!

When I woke up to seeing barely nothing on January 5th, it wasn’t terrifying, but when it didn’t resolve itself within a couple days I began to worry. The doctors had no clue as to what was going on and they couldn’t tell me if my vision would ever return, so after a week of no changes, reality started to sink in. I didn’t know what the future held, I didn’t know what to look forward to and I worried about the possibility of having to retire Cessna because I wasn’t sure she could adapt to my new requirements. But, all of these worries are now dissolving because my vision is improving and Cessna has already begun to help me a little more. when I dropped a bottle of body spray, she immediately went over picked it up and After a few tries put it into my hand. This is not a skill her program taught her or even teaches dog guides for the blind, but it’s a skill her puppy raisers taught her in case she might have become a special skills dog.

I’m thankful to have my vision back, but know that unless the doctors figure out why it left in the first place, it could and more than likely will leave again in the future. I just hope next time I remember how well I coped and that it will just take time and patience for things to return to normal.

“If we all threw our problems into a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.”

A Month of Visitors

Over the past month we’ve had two young boys visiting us. Corbin is 18 months and Caleb is 12 years old. Corbin was here with his mom and her guide dog DeeDee, while Caleb stayed on his own with us.

During Corbin’s visit we learned that our dogs and cats have a huge amount of patience. Laya and Cessna tended to stay out of Corbin’s way, but the others were patient with his poking and pulling. I wasn’t sure what Logan would do around a young child, but there were times when we weren’t able to catch Corbin in time, so Logan would let out a low growl to let us know she needed our help. Corbin thought Logan was so cool, he liked pulling on her tail and grabbing her ears. Logan never once scratched him, she would just try and get away or call out for help. She isn’t one to hide either, unlike Laya, Logan was out in the open pretty much all the time – guess she thought he’d get the point after a while like the puppies usually do.

Phoenix and Aspen weren’t as into Corbin’s poking and pulling, but would patiently lie under him while he bounced until we caught him or he got bored. Corbin has a dog of his own, his mom’s guide dog, but he still doesn’t really know how to properly treat animals. He’s still young though, so hopefully he’ll learn soon. Canyon was the best with him. He never once shyed away and was always willing to let him pull on his tail, ears and jowls. At one point corbin even had a hold of Canyon’s lips while sticking his thumbs into his nose. Huib caught him in the act and that was discouraged. Even though Canyon didn’t always like what Corbin was doing, he still went up and wanted to play. It’s amazing to see how well cats and dogs can behave around young children – even when they aren’t used to having them around.

Caleb was much better with the animals. He offered to feed the cats each morning and let the dogs out for relief. The dogs loved having him around, but he wasn’t a huge fan of their desire to lick him or be in his face. His favourites were Cessna and Aspen, he’d ask to take them out with him all the time. Canyon was a little much at times for him, but I had to remind him that his energy level wasn’t always helping either. Caleb didn’t realize why Canyon wanted to always jump up on him when he was dancing around or laughing uncontrollably.

Caleb liked taking Cessna with us to the gold mine tour in Timmins and Science North in Sudbury. Caleb and his mom fostered a puppy named Jasper for Autism Dog Services so he was used to taking dogs places, but he still seemed to like seeing how Cessna reacted to the different environments. At the gold mine tour the tour guide showed us how the different machinery worked which freaked Cessna right out. The slusher and drill are extremely loud and with us being underground the rock vibrated and the noise was amplified. She was a trooper though and calmed right down once the machines were turned off.

At Science North I thought she’d be afraid of the noises coming from the dinosaurs and the ones that moved, but she surprised me and didn’t even react once. I think she really liked the insects and animals she got to see. Caleb was able to hold almost all of the insects in the exhibit and made sure to show Cessna, she thought that was pretty cool – I made sure she had her gentle leader on though so I could easily control her excitement. When we were on the animal floor, she was totally enthralled by the skunk who was anxious and walking back and forth in its enclosure. We didn’t take her with us on the second day, but I actually got to touch the skunk – she (Rosie) felt a lot like Cessna, but with fur about the length of Canyon or Laya.

Canyon came with us to Sudbury and Toronto, he was awesome! He settled immediately in his crate while we left him at the hotel – huib looked under the door to see what he what he was doing.

At Caleb’s house in Toronto he was interested in the bird and snake, but was easier to re-direct than Cessna who wouldn’t stop going up to the bird cage. On Saturday night I went onto Facebook to see what was new with my friends and family and saw that my friend’s daughter was back in the hospital. Knowing that we were only a few blocks away, I decided that we’d go visit with her before heading back north. Christina has a service dog from Autism Dog Services named Spencer so loves seeing us with the dogs when we visit. The second we entered her room she had a huge smile on her face and throughout our visit never fell asleep or stopped giggling. The funniest part of our visit with her, was to see how she pretended to sleep every time a doctor or nurse entered the room. When you first meet Christina you’d think she was unaware of her surroundings and it didn’t matter what you said around her – well you’d be completely wrong. She is unable to communicate, but from watching her facial expressions and observing her reactions to various incidents you actually understand that she’s quite an intelligent little girl who can’t express herself, but knows how to work the system  Christina’s seizures still seemed to be under control while we were visiting so the doctors were talking about sending her home the following day, so that was pretty exciting news.

Our trip home was pretty uneventful and boring for the dogs, but they were good little travelers as usual. It’s hard to believe, but as of Tuesday we’ve lived in Northeastern Ontario for a year. So far it hasn’t been all that great, but hopefully this year will bring a little more luck and less frustration. Huib has 3 more years left of his contract with the Kirkland & District Hospital, so hopefully the time will go quickly or things will improve dramatically.

4 Months Away


I have had a pretty busy few months so haven’t had the time to blog. Now that things have slowed some I’m going to try and post more often.

Canyon turned a year old on the 3rd of June and got some new toys to share with everyone. He is 23 inches tall, 22 inches long and just 70lbs. We had him to the vet for his heartworm test and the vet said we could continue feeding him puppy food and add in fats that might entice him to eat more. She says he should be closer to 80lbs by now and will get up to 90lbs by the time he has fully filled out. His coat has grown in nicely and he seems a bit darker than he was before his coat fell out. His obedience is well on it’s way and he has already started being able to play fetch with the girls in the yard. He still isn’t the greatest at heeling, but we got an easy walk harness in June and it seems to help redirect him easier than the newtrix, gentle leader or martin gale. We took him to Toronto for Woofstock with Cessna and he was fantastic! He was quite interested in all the different dogs and smells, but listened pretty well. We were with a bunch of puppies in training, so Canyon fit right in.

Aspen turned 7 on the 18th of June and was given the special task of cleaning out the lasagna pan. We also made some banana cinnamon cookies for her and Canyon to share with the others. She’s been swimming tons and playing fetch in the yard every chance she gets. Her and Canyon are obsessed with the game and will grab a toy as they walk out if you’re not watching.

Cessna and I celebrated our 5th year as a team on May 27th. She has really made a mark on my heart and I get sad thinking about the fact that she will be turning 7 in October. She has matured tons and become such an amazing companion. She spends almost all her day watching out for me and the other dogs. She will defend Aspen against Canyon when he’s being a bully and not allowing her to bring the toy to Huib or I, she will run to me and make sure I am okay when walking down the steps in front of our house and just always seems to be watching over everyone. I’m really not sure I’ll ever be able to find a dog good enough to fill her shoes. It’s been a long road, but we’ve gotten here and I hope she’ll work another couple years for me.

Phoenix is still the same old, happy go lucky, boy we’ve loved forever. He can’t hear or run, but he still makes sure to keep the younger ones in line. We started him on a new anti-inflammatory supplement a month ago and it really seems to be making a difference in his ability to get around. He doesn’t seem as stiff after lying in one spot for too long and he doesn’t seem to hesitate at the top of the stairs before going down to the grass. He’ll be 14 in October and I think he is doing amazing!

As you can see, lots has changed and been happening for us all. Canyon is becoming a man, Cessna is becoming a wise middle aged woman, Aspen is finally able to play, and Phoenix is moving smoothly through his golden years. I look forward to getting back into the whole blogging thing and sharing our lives with you all.

He’s Grown So Much…

I haven’t specifically written a post about Aiden in a while so I thought I’d do one today. Aiden has grown up to be such a handsome young man. He will be 9 months old on the 23rd and is already slightly taller and longer than my retired dog guide, weighing more than when I first got Phoenix as well at 67lbs! I will admit, Phoenix is not a big dog by any means (24 inches tall; 22 inches long & 70lbs while retired), but he is an 11 year old male so it still shocks me that Aiden has surpassed him in size at 9 months of age. Gone are the days when Cessna (21 inches tall; 19 inches long & 62lbs) could tower over Aiden and look so big beside him.

We had our first training session with his trainer in over a month and he was so amazed at how nicely Aiden had filled out and matured. He is no longer the silly looking puppy with the big head, big paws and small body. He is still tall and slim, but now his head and paws actually seem to suit his frame. At the session we did some obedience and some staying while people walked here and there through the mall. Aiden did overly well, he was a little too interested in what I had for him, but with time his stays will improve and his desire for all food will lessen – at least we hope it will!! I was so proud of my little Monkey Man, he was so well behaved and didn’t seem as young as he really is. His trainer commented that he looked great for 10 months, and I reminded him that he was actually only 8 months, this impressed him even more.

Over the past couple of weeks we have had some visitors which have both excited Aiden and also made him a little jealous. Foxy (foster puppy for National Service Dogs) came to visit for a week and Aiden loved to play and wrestle with her, she is only a month older than him so has a similar energy level. At times though I think Aiden wished she’d actually leave him alone so he could have a nap…oh baby boy, you are so lazy for your age! Foxy went home last Saturday and then we had a 7 month old male golden retriever come to visit for a bit. The golden wasn’t a huge fan of Aiden as he was also not yet neutered. I felt terrible seeing Aiden nervous to come near us and after only 6 days of assessing the golden, we decided to take him and his brother (who was staying with a friend) back to their breeder. They will some day make wonderful pets for someone, but I feel it would take too much time and effort to make them into successful service dogs. Aiden has been happy to finally have his home back and be the only puppy in the place, but to our sadness the weather has been quite rainy and for some reason Aiden’s energy level has decided to peak at this time… Hopefully soon we can get him out running every day so we can finally get a handle on this energy!

This afternoon Aiden and I will be joining a “stay” class which is held by Sue Alexander of Dogs in The Park. She believes in a dog’s ability to learn through reward rather than punishment. Aiden has so far been trained using the “punishment” way of doing things, but I am hoping that this class might help both him and I, him with his stays and me with learning the way of training through “reward” rather than “punishment”. We had a preliminary training session on Thursday and Aiden seemed to catch on slowly. We’ve been practicing this all weekend, I am hoping it will show, but I worry that his energy level might get in the way of his learning, especially when there will be other dogs in the room learning as well.

Please keep your fingers crossed for us! I will let you all know how it goes.

Updates & Stuff

I thought I’d first begin this entry by updating everyone on how Teal and Amber are doing at their new homes, then updating everyone on how Lynette is doing at GDB. Teal looks to be doing wonderfully with his foster mom. I have not yet had a chance to get together with her or see her on an outing, but I am sure that soon enough we will cross paths again. Amber has now been with her foster mom for almost 3 weeks and also looks to be improving nicely. We have run into them a couple of times and Amber still seems to have a huge attraction to Aiden, but at least now she is settling down quicker and not stressing when she can’t be near him. Amber seems to be learning things quickly, she rides on the bus every day without any issues and attends school with her foster mom, settling down for a nap once they get into the classroom. The only real concern right now is her fear of traffic. I think with time though she will get through this fear…I guess living in a small village she didn’t encounter much traffic in the first few months. I will post some new pictures of both Teal and Amber once I get some from their foster moms. We will be seeing Amber again on Monday and this will be the first real time her and Aiden will be working side by side…hopefully it will go well.

Lynette has now been at GDB for almost 2 weeks, just one more week to go and she will be on a plane back to Toronto. She was placed with a fairly energetic and challenging female yellow lab at first, but after just a few days the dog began to show a lack of confidence, so Lynette decided that a dog change was necessary. She now has a tiny female black lab who works extremely well, but is also playful and challenging at times. If you are interested in seeing more about how she is doing and learning a little about her former guide, you can visit her blog at http://lynessence.typepad.com/.

Last weekend was a pretty busy one. On Friday we went to a friend’s graduation barbecue and then on Saturday we attended a Labrador retriever breeder show. If that wasn’t enough then Sunday we spent the entire day in Toronto, in the morning we attended the Walk for Autism at Nathan Philips Square and then in the afternoon we walked around Woofstock. The barbecue was fun, we spent about 3 hours there chatting with my friend and listening to stories her friends told about random things. Aiden and Cessna both came with us, Aiden was pretty interested in Jess’s friend’s guide named Cotton. Cotton is a bernese lab cross so is quite large and well energetic to add to it all. Aiden tried to play with Cotton for a while, but Cotton began to be a little too rough with him so we stopped the games. Cotton is over 85lbs and Aiden was 49lbs (now 54lbs!) at that point so we worried about having an Aiden pancake if Cotton were to actually sit on him, which he was trying to do. The lab breeder show was also pretty interesting, we were helping out at the Autism Dog Services booth, but also got a chance to walk around and see the different kennel’s booths and food vendors. Purina was giving out the more interesting stuff, they gave us a bag and told us to take as many treats as we wanted, they weren’t packages, but out loose for people to let their dogs test.

Sunday was very tiring, but fun and a great experience for both Cessna and Aiden. At the walk I stayed with Cessna at the booth, I didn’t want her to get too overheated – it was over 30 degrees celsius out and she is a black lab. At the booth I was with another foster mom and we took turns answering questions about the organization. It is amazing how many people look at the name of the organization and assume we work with autistic dogs…well I really do hope not, but then again are there autistic dogs out there? Another interesting, but strange question we were asked was if the dogs bite…sir I really do hope not, but if they do of course they wouldn’t continue in the program. Since we didn’t have any ADS fosters at the booth during the walk, we decided to put a training coat onto Cessna, people really didn’t notice the difference and to be honest I think she was a pretty good mascot for the organization. People and kids came up asking to pet her and she just laid there sun bathing…Cessna you are a black lab, how can you find sun bathing fun? Some parents told me that Cessna was such a good girl because normally their kids were afraid of dogs, but for some reason were attracted to her. One child asked to give her a treat and well she is the one dog of mine that I completely trust to allow a child to give her something. After the walk was over we headed over to the Eatons Centre to cool down and grab some lunch. At Woofstock there were tons of people and tons of dogs…why do all small dogs seem to have an issue with dogs that are larger than them? While walking through the crowds poor Aiden was snarled at and even snapped at by all sorts of smaller dogs…another question, why do people insist on allowing their dogs to walk on flexi leashes in crowded areas? I would think common sense would tell people to use a shorter leash in such places, but then again not everyone seems to understand common sense. Once we finished walking through all of the exhibits we began our trip back to the car. Aiden was so exhausted, he wanted to stay on the subway train rather than get off and go home. I thought at one point we were going to have to carry him.

This week has been off and on busy as well. Huib has been working a lot and my sister and her cat moved in for the year on Monday. I attended a presentation on Tuesday night at the Legion with Cessna…it was a presentation on K-9 Helpers so it was useful information. On Wednesday I officially began my volunteering with the ABI program at our local long-term care home. It was nice getting to know all of the participants and staff. Cessna slept the entire 2 hours we were there, she is not a morning dog so waking up at 7:30am wasn’t her idea of fun. Today I did my second day of working with K-9 Helpers, I think I am going to really enjoy this job. I have been assigned many different tasks and all seem to have elements that will challenge me both skill wise and comfort wise. I will continue to write updates as time progresses. Right now my main task is to learn all I can about the organization, so not currently a real challenge, but I will make sure I put all my effort into this job because it’s not often that such a wonderful opportunity is set before someone.

“Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.”

Update Finally

Aiden is now 4 months and a week old, weighing in at 40lbs! Not as big as one of my fellow fostering mom’s puppy, but still a big boy. He is doing extremely well with his learning and makes us smile every moment of the day. He now knows all of the basic commands and we are just working on getting him to do them right away rather than when he feels like doing them. He loves his treats, so we’re using them a lot, but at the same time we’re having to be careful because he sometimes gets so focused on the treat that he’ll do every single command he knows instead of just doing the one we want. I think he might have learned that one from my old boy, Phoenix, he is crazy about food and will do anything for it!

Since Aiden is doing so well on his obedience commands, we have decided to begin teaching him some tricks. So far he knows how to give “five” and is so-so on rolling over. We thought that a child might enjoy an autism assistance dog who could do tricks. Not sure what else we will teach him, but I will keep everyone up-to-date with his trick learning successes.

We haven’t been doing too many exciting things with him these days. My husband has finished school for the summer so is working a lot more. I decided to take Aiden and Cessna for a walk on my own around my neighbourhood, they did so well together! Even though Aiden was being a bit of a butt head at times, Cessna never missed a curb or obstacle, she wasn’t even the littlest bit distracted either…I’m so proud of my baby girl!

I guess the most interesting thing that has happened around here over the past couple of weeks is that my neighbour’s dog has decided it is fun to jump off her balcony. Harley is a 6 ½ year old 92lbs German Shepherd Rottie cross. They live on the 3rd floor in our building and it is about a 30 foot drop from their balcony to the ground. He did it three times and for some reason did not injure himself at all. He was a little stiff last week, but he would totally do it again if he were given the chance. They have lived here for over 6 years and not once has Harley ever tried something like this. He likes to have access to the balcony while our neighbour is away at work, but now that privilege has been removed which has made him a little pissed off. The first day she barricaded him from the balcony he tore apart her place and broke the patio door window, cutting up both sides of his face…guess he is a little claustrophobic. He has been staying with us during the day while she is away at work, but we’re slowly rehabilitating him by not picking him up until about 2 hours after she leaves and then dropping him back off at home about 2 hours before she arrives. She said he was a little pissed off when she got home yesterday, but it is definitely a positive move towards staying home for the entire day on his own again. Harley is a bit of a bad ass at times, so having him around can be frustrating, but he seems to understand that my husband and I don’t put up with much, so he has gotten into the habit of coming over and listening which is a nice change. Hopefully within the month he’ll be back to staying home alone though because having a dog his size in our 2-bedroom condo apartment along with our own dogs can be a little chaotic at times.

I got an e-mail from Aiden’s breeder last week. She still has two of Aiden’s litter mates and sent me a picture of them. Amber is the darker one on the left and Teal is the lighter one on the right. She is still waiting to find that perfect family for them, so for now she has put up a fence to keep them out of the neighbour’s yard and is working on teaching them some of the basic obedience commands. I guess Teal is a bit larger than Aiden, weighing in at 47lbs and Amber seems to be quite similar in looks to Aiden. I really do need a farm…to have other little Aiden’s running around would be so cool!