It’s Halloween!

Happy Halloween Everyone!

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

Canyon The Wizard

Cessna the Christmas Elf

Aspen The Ladybug

Rogue The Fairy Princess

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

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

6.5 Month Old Rogue

Huib catches Rogue in a natural position.

Huib tries to get Rogue posing.

Achieving The Confidence

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

I finally came up with the perfect idea.

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

Are you ready?

Here we go…

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

Fast-forward almost three years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

This weekend was Thanksgiving here in Canada. My step-dad and sister came to visit. Huib has been working a lot this week, so it was really nice to have the company of family. Today we had turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, turnip and corn. It was absolutely delicious!

With it being Thanksgiving, I thought I’d share five things I’m most thankful for.

1. I’m thankful for Huib. He has been an important part of my life since 2000, and I couldn’t imagine being without him.
2. I’m thankful for my dogs. They bring me smiles and laughter each day.
3. I’m thankful for family. Even though we’re a little dysfunctional, I know they will always have my back.
4. I’m thankful for my friends. Each one has added something special and unforgettable to my life. Even those who have moved on, have left me with lessons I would not have learned without their presence.
5. I’m thankful for the challenges I’ve been given in life. I think that if I had not had to deal with some of the “special” circumstances in life, I would not be the person I am today.

If you feel like it, please share five things you are thankful for in the comments section.

National Guide Dog Month – Should You Pet?

Sorry for slacking on these posts, but this weekend was pretty busy so I thought we’d just make it something that will happen each weekend this month – no “National Guide Dog Month” posts on weekends.

Today, Huib and I took Cessna and Rogue into town for a little sidewalk and intersection work. While walking the streets of Englehart, I heard a few people saying to their companions that they must not distract the working dogs. As I mentioned earlier in this post, we would actually like people to come up and ask to pet Rogue.

This got me thinking about all the service dog handlers who have a “absolutely no petting” policy, or who wish people would just stop asking.

Instead of taking the time to write a post about everything that has already been said by some other bloggers, I thought I’d just give links to their wonderful posts.

Teach Them Well by L^ & Jack

Don’t Pet by Nati & the Dogs

To Pet Or Not Pet A Guide Dog by Lynette & DeeDee

I am in the “ask, and I might let you pet my guide dog” camp.

I understand why some people have an “absolutely don’t pet my guide dog” policy.

And I understand why some get really annoyed by people constantly asking.

But, I have been blessed to have been matched with dogs who could care less about other people and their attempts at distracting them from their job.

I guess the bottom line is…to always ask someone before petting their dog, whether it’s a guide dog or pet. It’s just safer that way for everyone.

Where Were You?

Over the past few weeks leading up to the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, the same question has been posed all over the radio, television and internet –

“Where were you?”

I’ve thought about this question for weeks. Where was I? What was I doing? Who was I with?

On September 11th, 2001:

• I was starting my 3rd year at the University of Guelph.
• I was living with Phoenix in residence.
• I had been dating Huib for ten months.
• I was looking forward to a bright future.

I remember that morning. I remember walking down the hall from my residence room. I remember hearing a lot of people crying and talking in the lounge. I remember hearing the television. I remember stopping at the door of the lounge to listen. And, I remember the feeling of shock that came over me.

I had not lost anyone that day. I had no real ties to America. But, I knew this day would change my life forever.

September 11th, 2001 is a day that should never be forgotten.

It is a day when we all learned that no one was safe. A day when the world stopped, and cried together. A day when thousands of people and special dogs were lost.

Please take a moment, to remember and thank all who were lost.

Happy Birthday!!

Today is my husband’s 32nd birthday.

Huib never wants anything for his birthday and would much rather I not even acknowledge it. It is not because he is worried about aging, but because to him, it’s no fun getting gifts or being put into the spotlight.

Last year I surprised him, by having a half dozen roses delivered to his work. My sister went to the flower shop with me and we picked out a blue vase to hold a single blue rose with five white ones.

This year he is not working on his birthday and my sister is living four hours away, so I have decided to just take him for lunch and will have him pick out some new scrubs for work, when we go down to Guelph in October.

I would have loved to do more, but we live so far away from family and friends, so I guess this will have to due for now.

Happy 32nd Birthday Huib!

I love you lots and look forward to spending many more birthdays with you.

National Dog Day

Today is National Dog Day. It is an annual event, to bring attention to the dogs in need of homes, and to recognize the pet and working dogs who selflessly provide companionship and safety everyday.

You can learn more about this wonderful event by checking out this link.

Since this blog is mainly dedicated to my life with dogs, I thought, why not write yet another post which honours my canine companions.

First, I’d like to dedicate Bryan Adams’ song You’ve Been A Friend To Me, to them all.

The words of this song, ring so true. My dogs have been with me through thick or thin. They don’t judge me for how I look or for the way I dress. They forgive me for being irrational at times. And they don’t leave my side when I’m ill or in tears.

Each of them has provided me with some level of companionship. And each one has helped me feel safe, both emotionally and physically.

Being married to a nurse means you are alone a lot of the week because they are working anywhere from two to five days, depending on whether they’re doing eight or twelve hours at a time. My dogs are the only reason I can stay home alone in the middle of nowhere and still feel safe. If Cessna hears something, she’ll begin to bark, which alerts the others to either start barking or in Rogue’s case, look out the window behind the couch. Most times it is nothing, or at least I don’t notice anything, but I often wonder if maybe the dogs and their presence is part of what keeps it being nothing.

Cessna has been my dog guide for six years now and not once has she ever put me in harms way. She seems to always know when my attention is somewhere else and will actually shoreline )walk along) a set of stairs she is trying to tell me about with it on her side, until I notice and give her a sign that it is okay to listen to my “forward” command. I have corrected her and/or spoken firmly, trying to get her to obey, but she will continue to use “intelligent disobedience” until she knows I am actually aware of what she is showing me. This has also happened on the sidewalk when there was a barrier to show construction. We were walking to a place I knew well and when Cessna started to move onto the grass, I corrected her and firmly asked for a “forward” because I did not realize the barrier was in our way, and thought she was being silly. She proceeded to try walking onto the grass again, but I still did not realize something was in our way, so corrected her more firmly and ask for a “forward”. At this point, Cessna knew I still did not understand, so sat and just looked up in a questioning manner. It was then, that I realized she had been trying to tell me something and felt out in front of her, finding the construction barrier. I felt like such a jerk! So, I told her how good she was and then asked for a “forward”, she took me onto the grass, around the barrier, and once we were back onto the sidewalk, we had a party! If it weren’t for Cessna’s trust and willingness to “disobey”, I know there could have been times when I would have fallen.

These are just small snippets into my life with the dogs, and how their presence effects me each and every day. If they were not around, I can definitely tell you that I would not feel the same level of companionship and safety, that I do right now.

Thank you Cessna, for putting up with my mistakes and for looking out for my safety.

Thank you Aspen, for the constant smiles and surprising moments of safety you provide.

Thank you Canyon, for making me laugh with your toy obsession, and with watching over the girls (Cessna, Aspen & Rogue) as they play outside.

And, thank you Rogue, for being my snuggle buddy, and for doing your little part in keeping the house free of “invaders”.

Without all of you, life just wouldn’t be the same.

Please try to do a little something special for your canine companions today.

Back To School

In June, I talked about wanting to return to school. I had decided to register as a non-degree student, and am hoping to take a course or two each semester between now and the fall of 2013. I’m tired of doing nothing, other than training with my dogs, reading books and cleaning the house. I know Huib does not hold my inability to get a job against me, but I still feel as though I’m wasting my life, sitting around.

Yesterday was the start of course selection, so Huib logged into my student profile, and registered me for this course.

When I was a student at the University of Guelph from 1999 to 2004, I majored in Criminal Justice & Public Policy, which primarily meant I took courses from the sociology and political sciences departments. I really enjoyed the political sciences, so focused mainly in this area when I had a choice, so there are actually very few courses left for me to take now that I am re-entering student life.

I was attracted by this new course, Governing Criminal Justice, because not only will it focus on areas that interest me, but it is also primarily writing based, and there is no final examination. I haven’t done a final exam in over four years, so I thought it would be best to start off taking a course that was writing based, since this is something I’m quite good at. I am not a creative writer, but give me a topic to research and I have no issues producing a paper that might just knock your socks off.

I’m not sure what the future holds in terms of my ability to find employment, but in the meantime I think I’ll try and better my educational background, so that I might be able to complete a masters when we move back to Southwestern Ontario.

Rogue Randomness

I thought I’d post an entry about some random Rogue news.

I got a message from Rogue’s breeder the other day and was informed that our first choice for her registered name has gone through!

Now, without further a due, let me present to you…

RLR’s Babe In Total Control

Doesn’t this formal name seem so fitting?

I wanted it to actually be Babe In Total Control Of Herself (see what the first letters of each word put together gives you?), but the Canadian Kennel Club only allows for thirty characters, including the breeder’s name, punctuation and spaces.

You’re probably all wondering where this name came from. Well, I was reading some of the entries Jess, of At A Glacial Pace,
wrote before I knew her and was inspired by this particular one.

In other news. Huib helped me measure Rogue the other day, and she’s huge! At just over 4 months of age, she is already 17 inches tall, 15 inches long, and about 30lbs!!

To give you all a comparison, we also measured Canyon, who is a 2 year old intact male golden retriever. He is 22 inches tall, 22 inches long and 77lbs! To be honest though, I actually thought Canyon was taller than that, since Cessna and Aspen are actually around the same height lol!

The changes in Rogue that we’ve noticed over the past week seem to be staying. It’s almost like we’ve mixed up our puppy with someone else’s. She was never a bad puppy, but she just seems so much further in her training and maturity than before our trip to London/Guelph last week. I’m not sure if it’s going to be short lived, or if witnessing Phoenix’s departure caused the changes, but it’s honestly mind boggling. She’s still testing us when it comes to her recall, but it’s like all of a sudden, she’s able to chill for long periods of the day, she’s extremely attentive and people oriented, and her obedience commands seem to be clicking. She’s also down to having about an accident every 2-4 days, so I think she’s well on her way to being house trained.

Yesterday Huib and I thought we’d take all the dogs into town to do some training in a park. Aspen will never be a competition dog, she’s just to timid and set in her ways, but we thought she could use the practice and might like being more involved. Cessna on the other hand could always use the practice and we knew she would be a great role model for the others, so of course she came along.

There is a sheltered area in the park where they’ve set up several benches around the edges, so we attached everyone’s leash to a spot where they couldn’t bother one another. Then, we had everyone go into a down and started to walk from dog to dog, only giving out treats if they were in the same position we left them in. this is an exercise I learned during my classes with Dogs In the Park.

Cessna was an absolute star, not budging once from her down-stay. She had some trouble with her sit-stays though, always going back into a down after I walked away or within a few seconds of getting her treat, so we’ll need to work on those.

Aspen was actually surprisingly good at remaining in her down and for part of the lesson, in her sits.

Canyon was pretty good at his down-stays, but I think he got bored after a bit so would try seeing if I noticed him get up lol! I’d just wait and then walk over quickly with a reward if he went back down. His sit-stays were non-existent though, so we’ll definitely have to practice.

With Rogue I am using the word “wait” because I don’t want to teach the “stay” until she is ready for her guiding commands. The “stay” command is really important in guiding so I don’t want to teach it wrong. She did pretty well with her down-waits, holding some for as long as 3-5 minutes before getting up again. I haven’t really done something like this with her, so I was quite impressed with how well she caught on. Like the others, her sit-waits were pretty terrible, but I’d have to say they were definitely better than Cessna and Canyon’s lol!

I think Huib and I are going to try and do these group lessons at least once a week, since they seemed to give Aspen some confidence and Rogue and Canyon will benefit from the distractions – especially if I want to trial with them.

I’ll try and get Huib to take some pictures next time we’re at the park, we had forgotten the camera on the coffee table.