Training With The Rogue Puppy

As I mentioned in this post, I ran into some training issues with the Boarder Collie Lady, and with the help of Sharon, from After Gadget, I have created a new training plan.

After reading my post, Sharon, Karyn and others, suggested I forget about the Border Collie Lady, and start looking for new training resources.

Well, my first step in this process was to join the Training Levels Group with Sharon’s assistance. This was probably the most important decision I have made in the four months, since picking up my little girl.

As soon as I posted my introduction to the group, a wonderful woman from Wyoming, e-mailed me to introduce herself and immediately took me under her wing. She first gave me blind-friendly suggestions on teaching “touch”, and then called me a few days later, to discuss where I was so far, and where I wanted to go from here. She listened intently, then told me a bit about the process she went through in training her 20 month old male, standard poodle, who has now passed his public access test. She commended me on our progress so far, and told me to continue doing what I am, but to also start working more closely on Sue Ailsby’s Levels. She said that for the first year, she mainly socialized, exposed and trained her dog using the levels. The following day, she sent me her training plan for me to follow when Rogue is ready to begin her task training (or guide work).

Since our phone call, we’ve traded e-mails every couple of days. It is so great to know there is someone willing to invest their time and energy in helping us succeed. She has also suggested I start working on some of the Level 2 behaviours, since Rogue is pretty close to passing Level 1, we’re just working on targeting and come.

Here is where Rogue is with Level 1:

Come (from 20 feet) – In Progress
Down (with 2 cues) – Passed
Sit (with 1 cue) – Passed
Target/Touch (nose to palm) – In Progress
Zen/Leave It (5 seconds in hand) – Passed

Here are the behaviours Rogue will/has learn in Level 2:

Come (from 40 feet, 2 cues)
Crate (enter, open/close door with 2 cues) – Passed
Distance (goes around a pole 2 feet away with 2 cues)
Down (from sit with 1 cue)
Down Stay (while I walk 20 feet away/back with extra cues)
Go To Mat (from 5 feet away with 2 cues)
Handling (tail, ears, feet) – Passed
Leash (loose for 1 minute with 1 distraction)
Sit (from stand with 1 cue) Passed
Sit Stay (while I walk 20 feet away/back with extra cues)
Stand (from sit or down with 2 cues)
Stand Stay (without moving feet for 10 seconds)
Target/Touch (nose to marked end of stick with 1 cue)
Trick (can be a very simple one)
Watch (eye contact for 10 seconds with 2 voice cues)
Zen/Leave It (5 seconds in hand & 10 seconds on chair with 2 cues) Passed

I have started to do regular little training sessions with Rogue when I’m in the washroom, and she really seems to be catching on to the “touch” behaviour. I am not naming it yet, but think she is pretty close to being able to “touch” on cue. I think the random, short sessions are working out a lot better for us both, because she isn’t expected to pay attention for more than 3 minutes at a time, and I am not having to worry about the others getting upset about being left out.

“Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly.” – Robert H. Schuller

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.

Six Months Old

Rogue is now 6 months old!

It’s hard to believe that she’s already been a part of our family for 125 days.

We’ve done a lot in those four months and she’s grown and matured tons.

Yesterday we took Rogue into Englehart and weighed her at the vet clinic. She now weighs 44.7lbs, which means she has gained almost 10lbs since September 13th. Her puppy coat no longer fits, so we are taking a bit of a break from public outings so that Huib has time to make her new one. He’s been quite busy with work, so hasn’t really had any time for anything other than sleep.

Since we misplaced our camera, I thought I’d share a picture of her brother Snickers. Snickers lives near Toronto, Ontario and weighs just under 50lbs.

Snickers at 6 weeks

Snickers at 6 months

Uninspired

Sorry for the lack of posting this week, but I just haven’t had anything to write about.

Everyone is doing well.

Rogue continues to grow and mature into a wonderful little girl. She is still learning to control herself around food, but we have now started to feed her with everyone else in the kitchen. We have Aspen and Canyon eat together using the bowl table, she used to share with Phoenix, and Cessna eats with Rogue on the other side of the kitchen. Rogue can get really jumpy and overexcited when she sees the food being prepared, so we have started to attach her to a leash that is around one of the couch legs. She seems to calm right down once she has the leash connected to her collar, so I’m hoping that she will learn with time, to just chill out and wait for the bowls to be put down. Other than that, we have been working on loose leash walking and are really hoping to have her ready for a Rally-O competition in November. Of course it will depend upon how much we practice and on whether her CKC paperwork comes in, but we can hope right?

Other than that, I’ve been busy with school reading and assignments. I actually got my first assignment back today and received a stellar grade, so I’m happy about that. The group discussion portion of the course still frustrates me, but the professor is supposed to be reorganizing the groups after she has marked the assignments we handed in today. Today’s assignment was to discuss and reflect on the group discussions and on how we felt our participation could be better. I’m not really sure this one went as well as the first assignment, but there are three other reflection papers to improve upon.

Nothing else is really new here. It has gotten really cold all of a sudden, so I’m sure we’ll have some snow pictures to share in the real near future. I was really hoping to have some more recent pictures of rogue to share with everyone, but it looks as though we have lost our camera. Maybe I’ll see if Huib can take some good ones with my IPhone.

For now, I’ll leave you with a couple pictures Huib took in June of Aspen and Canyon.

Coincidental Timing

On Sunday, it will be 13 years since my mother passed away. This anniversary has gotten me thinking about how each time I’ve gotten a new dog guide, someone special has left my life.

Mom passed away two months and two days after I was matched with Phoenix. She had a chance to get to know Phoenix, and thought he was the perfect dog for me. She enjoyed sharing her banana Popsicles with him, and would even offer to babysit if I had to go somewhere alone. She did not share this sort of relationship with Gryphon.

Granny passed away a month and fifteen days after I was matched with Cessna. She also got a chance to meet and sort of get to know her. She thought Cessna was a little rambunctious, but saw potential for a great worker.

Then recently, Phoenix passed away two months and a day after I picked up Rogue. He showed her a patience I had not seen him ever offer another puppy. He let her lick his face. He let her nap on top of him. He let her clean up crumbs he had dropped. And, I’m convinced he left her with a level of wisdom and maturity, I’ve never seen another five month old puppy possess.

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it’s really got me wondering if I should stop getting new dog guides.

Please let’s hope I’m wrong.

Five Months Old!

Sorry for the late post, but we had some internet issues until late last night…one of the cell towers nearby had been damaged by lightening – aww…country life lol!

Rogue is now 5 months old!

She hasn’t really learned anything new because we’re trying to get her current commands to a point where she’ll do them anywhere, and under any circumstance.

The only new thing we’ve started to teach, is LLW or loose leash walking. So far she has had three lessons, and is doing quite well. We’re not yet at a point where we are naming the behaviour, but I’m sure that by the time she is 6 months, it’ll be second nature.

Since I don’t have five new behaviours she knows, or places she’s been, I thought I’d share the nicknames she’s acquired:

• Pupparoo (or Pupper for short)
• Roagie
• Baby Girl
• Little Monster
• Roagalini Boacachini (not sure where that came from lol!)

It’s amazing to see how much she’s grown over the past few months.

Rogue (Pinky) at 6 weeks

When we got her, she was just over 11lbs and could fit comfortably in the space between my elbow and wrist.

Rogue at 10 weeks

Now, she is 35.9lbs and 18 inches tall. Her orange, black and yellow puppy collar no longer fits, so she has graduated to a red and black one with large and small fire hydrants on it. Her coat is also getting to be snug, so Huib will need to start making her new one quickly.

Rogue at 4 months (this is the newest picture we have because I think we’ve lost our camera with the past few weeks of pictures on it…)

I also had a chance to get some updated pictures of one of her sisters.

Josie (Violet) at 6 weeks

Josie at 5 months (33.1lbs and 20 inches tall)

I’m hoping to get some updated pictures to share of her other siblings, but no one else has yet had a chance to send them to me.

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.

Puppy Love

Rogue has been with us for almost three months. I know this will sound cliché, but I honestly feel as though she was meant to be with us.

Ever since the day we picked her up, Rogue has been wiggling her way into our hearts.

She has more personality than any puppy I have ever raised or met.

She far exceeds our expectations daily.

And, to add to this all…she’s extremely cuddly and affectionate.

I know this goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyways…

I LOVE this puppy!!

New Liskeard

Yesterday Huib and I took Cessna and Rogue into New Liskeard to get some groceries. New Liskeard is about thirty minutes away, and provides many opportunities for getting almost anything you might want. Over the past week, Huib has been working a lot. And the week before, we didn’t really have a lot of desire to go very far from home.

So, we thought it was time to do some more extensive public training with Rogue, practicing her sits, downs, waits and starting to teach her some “loose leash walking”.

Cessna was guiding wonderfully. She was a little distracted by all the seagulls in the parking lot outside New Liskeard’s tiny mall, but she never once made any mistakes. I don’t think she really enjoys the trips where we do less continuous walking, and more practicing/teaching, but she was surprisingly patient.

Rogue was really excited to be out and about. She was eager to get started and investigate the world. Huib first got her to pee before putting on her “Service Dog In Training” jacket, and then proceeded to walk towards the mall doors. He stopped each time Rogue was pulling, and waited for her to return to his side while in the parking lot. This made the short walk, quite long. Once at the doors, Huib had Rogue sit and wait, while he opened it and only calling her through if she was still in the sitting position. Rogue seemed to transfer what we’d been doing with her at home to this situation, so it did not take much time for her to give Huib what he wanted. Once in the mall, she was pretty distracted at first. After having to stop several times, just trying to walk a few feet, I suggested we try using the clicker – clicking and treating when she was in the correct LLW position. It did not take Rogue long to figure out where she needed to be to get a treat, but of course, this being her first real LLW lesson, she will need further instruction. We tend to only use the clicker at home when we’re teaching new behaviours because Huib finds it tough paying attention to Rogue, where Cessna is guiding me, and clicking to be too much work. Now that he has seen how much the clicker is helping with teaching Rogue the correct walking position though, I think he will be more open to using it outside the house. In addition to asking Rogue for LLW, and a sit/wait at all doors, we would only allow her to greet other people if she was sitting nicely. It’s amazing to see how educated people are in the north, about not bothering service dogs, we actually went over to people we heard telling their children not to bother the dogs to ask if we could use them in teaching Rogue manners. When living in Southern Ontario, it wasn’t this difficult to find people, willing to just come up, and ask to pet the dogs lol!

I think the main two successes of this trip were that:
• Rogue did not have one accident

AND

• Rogue didn’t once pull like a sled dog

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.