Field and Obedience

I apologize for the long absence, it’s been a really busy few months.

Over the past few months, we’ve been doing weekly field and obedience lessons with the goldens, and sometimes with Rogue as well.

We’ve made a great deal of progress!!

We’ve been working on: heeling, sitting whenever I stop moving, walking in a figure eight pattern, stays, recalls, and having the dogs pay attention to my body language because in obedience I cannot talk to my dog.

I still need to work on their heeling and sit-stay, but overall the goldens are doing really well.

Rogue has a great stay, but she seems to be confused about heeling, when I’m usually asking her to lead out when guiding, so Susie has suggested Huib work with her and I continue to work with the goldens. Huib has said he’ll do that and I think it’ll b a good challenge for him and a great experience for Rogue.

Now that the weather is getting warmer, we’ll start focusing on field and our obedience lessons will reduce to once a month.

In field, Arizona is doing fabulously!! She no longer hesitates about retrieving the duck, and rarely feels the need to visit the ‘gunner,’ choosing to return to me as soon as she has picked up the duck. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working on her ‘hold’ because she often drops the duck in front of me instead of giving it directly to me. In order for her to obtain her JH (or Junior Hunter), Arizona needs to be able to put the duck in my hand. For her WC (or working certificate) she can just bring the duck back and drop it near me. In order to reinforce the need to give the duck right to me, I’m starting to ask her to ‘sit’ as she approaches and then continue to ‘hold’ the duck until I say ‘give.’ She’s doing it really well at home, we just need to continue practicing it outside of the home.

Canyon has also been progressing well in field, but with his seizures Susie has suggested we not go for titles because he could have a seizure while swimming. We had been hesitant about the water portion of the test for other reasons, mainly because he tends to get hot spots after swimming, so when the seizure issue came up, we fully supported the decision not to work towards the titles.

The incident that highlighted the seizures as a potentially life-threatening concern, was that last night while Canyon was waiting for Arizona to finish her land retrieves, Canyon had a seizure. Usually his seizures only happen when he’s at home and relaxing, not when we’re out and he’s eagerly awaiting his turn. So, once this happened, we realized that his seizures could create a life-threatening situation.

Canyon still really loves field though, so we’ll give him the chance to take part in the lessons, avoiding the water portion.

Rogue does not hesitate to retrieve the duck, so I am working on her ‘hold.’ Currently, Rogue will run over to the duck, come back and toss it at me. I don’t think it will take too long for her to catch on to what I really want her to do. I am going to start by asking her to help me carry things through the house, like I did with Arizona when I was teaching her to carry things. I think in the end, this training will add to her actual skill set as a working dog.

With the warmer weather approaching, our field lessons will now turn into group ones and become our Tuesday evening activity.

Well, that’s what we’ve been up to in field and obedience. I will keep you all posted on our progress and hopefully I’ll get back to regular blogging soon.

Biting My Tongue

Do you ever wish you could push aside politeness and just say whatever is on your mind?

I feel this way a lot, but like a good girl, I continue to bite my tongue.

Yesterday we went to see Huib’s former co-worker. We had been out shopping and decided we’d drop in since we were in the area.

At first, the conversation was great. We all caught up and Huib and his former co-worker chatted about work related stuff.

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Do you ever wish you had listened to your dog? I sure do.

While we were chatting, Rogue had two accidents in the middle of the co-workers office – how embarrassing!!

In her defence, she had tried to tell me she needed the grass before we had entered, but she’s not usually one to relieve herself when not at home, so I ignored her – which turned out to be a bad decision.

Just a quick aside to show everyone that service dogs, and especially their handlers, are not perfect.
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Now back to my story.

Another staff member then came over and the discussion turned to my dogs and how I trained Rogue myself.

The woman told me that her kid has chronic pain issues and the doctor suggested she look into a dog. The kid would use the dog to protect the painful side, making space around them when out in public, and the woman thought the dog could also provide companionship since the kid has some anxiety issues. I thought this was an interesting idea, until the woman started talking about how she felt a therapy dog would be what the kid needed.

I didn’t know how to step in and explain the differences between therapy vs. service dogs. Terminology is a big part of my thesis research, so this was a great example to show that the confusion is real. People really do not know what the difference is between all of the different types of dogs.

Then, to add to the frustration I was feeling, Huib’s co-worker started talking about how her pet dog had been ‘certified’ as an emotional support dog for her kid. Again, I didn’t know how to step in and clear up the confusion.

If it wasn’t bad enough to hear that someone had their dog ‘certified’ as an ESA, she then went on to explain that the dog seems to be more stressed at times than her kid. What the…?

Why would you make your stressed out dog do something they don’t feel comfortable doing? And, who ‘certified’ this dog to do this job?

Boy, was my tongue ever sore by the time we left and got back into the car where I could vent.

Success!!

She did it!! Rogue passed her tracking test!!

She is now RLR Babe In Total Control TD CGN.

The test went REALLY well. Rogue was extremely revved before and during the test.

A gentleman asked me if my dog was ready for the test and I told him “I don’t know.”

It’s true, I didn’t know. Just like humans, dogs have their good days and their bad. I didn’t know what sort of day this was going to be for Rogue.

Well, it was a good day. Together, we made history. As far as I understand, I am the first blind person to track at a Canadian Kennel Club event.

Our track was 410 metres long and we finished it in just over 6 minutes. Huib and I were dying by the end, Rogue was freaking flying!!

I am SO proud of my little red girl! She has been a great friend and training buddy. Not only does she work well to keep me safe each day, she also works hard to impress me with her intelligence and willingness to try anything.

On Friday morning we are going to start training for the next level, TDX. If it is not too snowy or cold this winter we may also start training for our first urban tracking title.

**There are pictures from our tracking adventure, so I will see if Huib can help me post them in the next week or so**

Canyon’s Seizures

As mentioned in earlier posts, Canyon has partial seizures.. He has been having them for about 4 years now, with them becoming more frequent over the past year or so.

Up until this past month, his seizures tended to happen about every 4-6 weeks, so we had decided to keep him off medication. Last January, we started giving Canyon 100mg of Coenzyme Q10, and we aren’t sure if it really does anything, but it also doesn’t hurt anything.

Over the summer, Canyon went 15 weeks without a seizure and we were optimistic.

In early September he had a mild seizure, followed by another mild one 11 days later, but we were still optimistic.

Then, 10 days later, on October 2nd, Canyon had his normal seizure, we still weren’t too worried.

This morning, at about 1:49am, Huib heard Canyon getting out of his crate and felt uneasy about it, so felt him. We immediately got down on the floor and began the waiting game. Canyon often knows when they are coming, so warns us and we usually have between 2-4 minutes to wait before the real thing happens. Once Canyon’s usual seizure took place, he seemed himself and went to get up, but had trouble – now we were worried. I helped him lay back down and over the next 45-50 minutes he went through moments of trembling, just having a rigid body, and acting himself. Never once during this period of time did he lose consciousness or control of his bowel or bladder. It all seemed to effect his motor skills. After about 35 minutes, Huib put a 1mg tablet of Ativan under his tongue and we waited for it to take effect. He appeared relaxed and ready to move after 10 minutes, so Huib offered him a treat and asked for a couple basic cues, he did them eagerly and then started toward the door, so Huib walked with him downstairs and to the backyard. As he took a step outside, he raised his paw over his head and became rigid again, so Huib picked him up, called everyone back inside and then carried him upstairs. He gave Canyon another 1mg tablet of Ativan and hugging him tightly, we waited for his body to relax again. It did around 2:50am. Huib helped Canyon back to his crate (he sleeps in there with his door open) and we climbed into bed. Canyon slept for a couple of hours and then woke me up to go outside. I followed him and after he peed, we returned to bed and he slept until our alarm, at which time he greeted us with a ball, ready to play fetch.

We think it is time to seriously consider medication. We have made an appointment for 4:00pm this evening with Bianca, their vet. I am hoping she can suggest a medication that won’t make him extremely drowsy and hungry all of the time, but in the end, we just want our golden boy better.

I will keep everyone posted on his progress.

Won’t That Affect Her Work?

Won’t that affect her guide work?

This is a question I hear constantly when I tell other service dog handlers about the various activities I choose to do with Rogue.

No, it doesn’t affect her ability to guide.

When you have a good working relationship, like Rogue and I do, you can choose to do almost anything together.

Rogue knows the difference.

She knows that when her guide harness is on, or even if it is off and she’s just hanging out in my office at school, that she needs to be professional. She knows she can’t be sniffing everything, visiting everyone, or chasing small critters that cross our path.

Rogue knows that when her tracking harness is on that her job is to “find” the track and follow it to the “article.” She knows that she doesn’t need to be paying attention to anything else. She knows that it isn’t her job to keep me safe. It’s her job to find the “article” for me.

Rogue knows that when we are at a conformation show and she’s wearing a show leash and collar that it isn’t time to guide; it’s time to walk nicely beside Huib. She knows that when they stop along side other dogs in the ring, it isn’t time to greet them or to sniff around. Rogue knows it’s time to “stack” and let the judge check her out. She knows that Huib will let her know what is expected and that he’ll remind her if she forgets.

When we are at field training and she’s wearing just her martingale and leash, Rogue knows it is time to retrieve. She knows that it’s okay to run away from me and get the duck (bumper with wings for now), and bring it back to me. Rogue knows it’s not time to sniff for articles or show me obstacles, it’s time to “mark” (or look forward and see where the duck is dropping from) and then “fetch” it and bring it back.

It’s true that dogs are not good at generalizing, but Rogue and I have been working together since she was 8 weeks of age. We’ve practiced things in a variety of environments and we’ve learned what’s appropriate in each situation.

Rogue knows that I will let her know if she’s made the wrong choice. And, I know that she’ll turn to me for help if she needs help figuring out what is expected.

so, the answer is no, conformation, tracking and field work will not affect Rogue’s work.

And, if we decide to try something else it won’t affect her work either.

This is why I love owner-training. I can choose to participate in any dog sport I want with Rogue. With Cessna, this was not the case. I wanted to try out rally obedience, but her school said no.

For Rogue and I, the sky is the limit!!

***This post is not directed at anyone. The questions I’ve been getting just got me thinking that it was time to try and educate others. I am thankful for all of the questions.***

Field Training: Crazy Labrador!!

Tonight was Rogue’s official introduction to field work.

Last week, we had her with us because she had been at a meeting with me and we didn’t have time to take her home. She seemed to really enjoy herself, so I decided to see how she likes field work for real.

There were a lot of dogs present this week. There was Maverick (the duck toller) and his new little buddy Shelby (also a duck toller), Hank (the chocolate lab), Cassidy (the yellow lab) and her littermate Rainy (who is owned by Susie), Jayden (a female chocolate lab) and her buddy Reba (the fox red lab – darker than Rogue), Arizona, and of course, her buddy Rogue.

We arrived 15 minutes early, so did a couple practice runs with Arizona. Her first run was a bit rusty, but her second and third attempts were great.

No one had arrived yet, so we got Rogue out to practice, and she was TERRIBLE!! She ran right over to the bumper but instead of bringing it directly back, she ran around like a goofy puppy on the way. We gave her two more attempts and each one was worse than the last. We didn’t know what we were going to do.

When everyone had arrived and things were set up, Susie had us take turns working our dogs at their level. She had things set up like we were at a real trial and simulated what would happen if we competed.

Arizona and Rogue weren’t the only two at the first level, WC, Cassie is also just starting field lessons.

Arizona did quite well. She still tried taking the bumper to the “gunner,” but when they didn’t pay any attention to her she started back to me. Each time she dropped the bumper half way back, but then got it again and brought it the rest of the way. Her recall was MUCH better.

Rogue was okay. She ran directly to the bumper, but she didn’t pick it up immediately and on her way back she dropped it a few times. I will need to work on her “hold.” Her recall was good though. And, I overheard one o the other people say she has the drive to do this, so I’m sure we’ll get there.

Once everyone had taken their turn, we went to one of the ponds to work.

At first we didn’t think we would participate, but then we decided to take our turn.

I worked with Rogue first. She was SO excited!! She was very good about sitting beside me and waiting for the release word – “fetch.” She swam directly to the bumper, getting slightly spooked by a log under the water she bumped into on the way, but recovering quickly.

The problem came when she was coming back. Instead of swimming to me, she swam to the opposite shore – *rolls eyes*

Laura was the gunner, so tossed another bumper into the water and I got really excited, trying to coax Rogue to swim back in my direction this time. It worked.

Her second attempt was an absolute write-off. She sat and waited for the release great, and she swam directly to the bumper, but again she took it to the opposite shore. When Laura tossed another bumper into the water, she swam out to it, and again took it to her side of the pond. Then she tossed it again and Rogue swam back towards me, but dropped the bumper just before reaching the shore – Oh, Roga-Monster!

Getting down to the edge of the water was a bit nerve-racking for me, so when it was Arizona’s turn, I had Huib work with her.

Arizona is fine once she gets to the bumper, but she needs to get over the initial panic of not being able to touch bottom as she swims out.

Huib said she sat beside him and waited for the release perfectly. That once she got to the bumper, she did well at remembering who to return it to – Good girl, Airy Berry!!

When Rogue and Arizona weren’t taking part in the action they were not happy. Both girls were SO noisy!! Rogue quivered with excitement and talked constantly. Meanwhile, Arizona whined and at one point she was even screeching – Oh, Airy Berry, you are SO embarrassing!

Rainy and Cassidy didn’t take part in the water work, so once Jayden and Reba had their turns, it was dark so we packed up.

Arizona did well. She is really progressing in her lessons.

And even though we thought Rogue was terrible, Laura said she did pretty well considering it was her first time, so I guess things weren’t as bad as we thought.

Stay tuned for more field work adventures.

Classic Car Show

Tonight was the classic car show at The Village of Riverside Glen, where Huib works.

Arizona standing in front of a 1930s Frontenac. Arizona is wearing her pink Ruffwear harness and the car is dark green.

Rogue had worked all day at McMaster, so we decided to leave her home and take Arizona.

Arizona standing in front of an old grey Corvette and other old cars

Arizona was a rock star!!

She got to socialize with several residents and other visitors to the show. She slept under my chair for a while even though there was some loud music – they had an Elvis impersonator come to sing for the residents. Arizona was even patient while Huib and I helped put things away at the end. She walked nicely at my side and was a perfect angel.

With her behaviour tonight, it’s honestly hard to believe that this is the same golden girl who is a busy little bee when home.

Summer Fun

It was a beautiful day, so Huib and I decided to take the dogs for a swim at the old Guelph penitentiary grounds.

Rogue standing in the water with a smile

With this smile, can you believe Rogue used to be the dog who wouldn’t even put a toe into a puddle?

Face shot of Cessna standing in the water smiling

Cessna hasn’t had a chance to swim this summer, so this outing was a pretty special one for her. She swam for probably 45 minutes before stopping for a rest.

Canyon, Rogue & Arizona swimming out to retrieve an orange bumper

Canyon often gets hot spots after swimming, so he hasn’t been in the water for probably 2 or more years. We thought we’d try it out and see what happened now that he really isn’t showing as often. He had a blast chasing the bumper and trying to keep it away from everyone.

Arizona spent a lot of the time on the shore waiting for the others to come back before she walked out to steal the bumper away. She’s such a lazy girl!

I’m not sure how Canyon’s skin will react to the water, but I definitely know the girls will be swimming again.

She Did What?

Last night, Arizona returned to field training. She’s been off for three weeks, first because of the hot weather and then because she finally had her first heat.

We have continued to practice retrieves over the past few weeks, but you never know what is going to happen at the group training.

Susie was away at the cottage, so Laura worked with us while Dean and Maverick worked alone in another area.

We first attempted to do some simple land retrieves. Laura went out into the field while I got Arizona to sit beside me and ‘mark’ (or look out to see what’s happening), then Laura made a duck call and tossed the bumper with the wing attached. I then let go of Ari’s collar and said ‘fetch’.

Arizona ran straight over to Laura, then to the bumper. She then brought the bumper to Laura instead of bringing it back to me. After getting her excited about the bumper again, Laura got her to pick it up again and I called her back. She came. This same sort of cycle happened a few more times, with Arizona going to a shaded tree behind me to wait for me to coax her out again, so we knew it was time to try something new.

Even though it was 6:00pm it was still quite warm.

As part of the Working Certificate (WC) test, the dogs have to do two land retrieves and two water retrieves.

We’ve been working on the land retrieves for months, not wanting to introduce the water retrieve until Arizona was working perfectly on land.

With the hot weather we decided to try some water work.

I walked to the edge of the pond while Laura walked part way around it. I had Ari sit and ‘mark’. Laura did the duck call and then tossed the bumper into the water. As I released Arizona’s collar, I said ‘fetch’.

She ran into the water and swam directly to Laura, ignoring the bumper. So Laura tossed another bumper into the water, hoping that would entice Ari to go for it – not happening!

I had Rogue with me, not a usual occurrence, because we had been at a meeting and Huib picked us up with just enough time to get to training.

Rogue had been watching Ari “have fun” and she wanted to “have fun” too. She was excited while watching her do the land retrieves, but the water work had her whining loudly. Rogue does not like the water, so to us this was pretty strange. But, since Ari wasn’t retrieving the bumpers and they needed to be brought back in, we decided to see if maybe Rogue could create a bit of competition.

With Ari’s refusal to retrieve we have been told to try a force retrieve (pinching her ear), and with her sometimes slow recall we’ve told to try a shock collar. Both of these methods are not ones we’re willing to consider though, there are so many other options out there.

Like a little bit of friendly doggie competition.

I let Rogue off the leash and she bolted directly for the water. She ran in and as soon as she realized she could no longer touch the bottom she started to panic. This didn’t stop her though, she wanted to get to that bumper, so after a few false starts, she finally stopped panicking and swam out to the bumpers. She brought the first one in and dropped it at Huib’s feet. Then she turned and went back into the water for the other.

While she was doing this Arizona swam along side, only trying to get the second one off her.

We then spent 20 minutes tossing the bumpers into the pond and having Rogue and Arizona compete for them, returning them to Huib for treats.

Once Ari seemed to be getting the hang of it, I held Rogue and Huib worked with Ari, tossing the bumper a short distance from where he had her sit. She ran into the water without an issue, but it took a few attempts before she finally started swimming out and bringing the bumper back to Huib. A few times she gave up, so I would let Rogue go out a few times, before holding her again.

We worked on water retrieves for probably 30-45 minutes total and by the end I think both girls had a pretty good grasp of the concept.

We then decided to try some land retrieves again. Arizona did two almost perfect retrieves, just taking it back to Laura at first, but then turning to bring it back to me in the end.

Laura thinks that because we’ve been working so much with her bringing the bumper back to the person who threw it, that when she’s at field training and the “Gunner” throws it, Arizona thinks she needs to return the bumper to whoever tossed it.

While this was happening Rogue stood with me watching intently.

Once Ari was finished, I decided to do a couple practices with Rogue and she was freaking perfect!

Rogue has never done field work training, she’s only watched us work with Arizona. Just like in conformation, where she learned by watching Canyon, Rogue has learned field by watching Arizona.

I think I might start bringing Rogue with me to group field classes, maybe she can get her WC. I think we are also going to start bringing Ari to rogue’s tracking lessons so we can do some field work afterwards.

The ability to do whatever activities with my dog is one of the highlights of deciding to owner-train, rather than go to a program for a guide dog.

I think Laura had just as much fun as we did watching Rogue figure things out, and teach Ari about water retrieves.

Progression in Tracking

Brooke and Rogue waiting for their tracking lesson to begin. Brooke is wearing jeans with a navy blue tank top, a white Roots hat with white Oakley sunglasses and white running shoes. Rogue is wearing a pacific blue harness from Ruffwear and has a black tracking line attached to the front which is held by Brooke.

Rogue has had two more lessons since her not so hot one. Now that we do not let her run free before the lesson her attention seems more focused on the task of tracking.

Huib is no longer tracking with her either, he is just acting as my guide, so maybe that is also why things are progressing. One thing with tracking is that you need to trust your dog and allow them to work things out, which is also a big part of having a successful partnership with a guide dog. I trust Rogue with my life, so why wouldn’t I also trust her in tracking? I also can’t see what is coming up, so she really has to do the work, I can’t direct her to the correct direction when she comes to a turn, even if there is a flag so it’s all up to Rogue and her nose.

Laura is pretty impressed with our teamwork, and says we are progressing well.

Maybe if we keep progressing we’ll be able to enter a trial in the fall… It would be nice to have an actual title on a dog.