Did You correct Him?

“When you like someone, you like them in spite of their faults. When you love someone, you love them with their faults.” – Hermann Hesse

Today, a friend and I were talking on MSN about how long we have had our dog guides and about our feelings leading up to the “big” day. We talked about some of the emotions we experienced and then began discussing the moment we put down our white canes. For me, it’s almost been fourteen years since I picked one up, but for him the white cane still comes out from time to time. I thought this was interesting and told him about Phoenix’s reaction to people who use a white cane.

It was at this point, he asked the question which inspired today’s post.
Friend – “Did you correct him?”
Me – “the first few times, but it did nothing so I just asked friends to fold up their canes and take my arm.”
Friend – “Well, my school teaches us…”

Are there others out there like me, who choose to just manage a “quirk”? or is it strange that I choose to accept these imperfections rather than punish my dogs?

As I mentioned in an earlier post
and then again in this post,
my dogs are not good for everyone, but they are perfect for me.

Ever since I received Phoenix in July of 1998, he has had an obsession with grabbing or bumping the white canes of people who walk past. The first few times I wasn’t sure what he was doing, but after I understood, I tried correcting him for it. He was not deterred by my corrections though, so after a couple months or maybe a year of trying to get him to stop, I just started managing the behaviour. I know this probably isn’t what other programs would want me to do, but this is how I’ve chosen to react and it seems to work for us. In most cases people usually just laugh when I explain why their cane just fell out of their hands or did a funky jolt. It can be a little embarrassing at times, but usually if I know someone is coming towards us with a cane, I’ll just stop and ask Phoenix to sit or try and stay between him and the person walking by. Phoenix isn’t trying to hurt anyone, he just seems to get a kick out of people’s reactions I guess!

I think Cessna’s most notable “flaw” is her never ending desire to chase small animals. No matter how much I corrected her or tried to discourage the behaviour, she still continues to jump around like a kangaroo in harness when a squirrel, bird or chipmunk scurries by. I remember the first few walks with her in training. We’d be walking along at jet speed and then all of a sudden my left arm would quickly shoot further to the left or right with an almost bouncing motion. I’d stop, tell her that was enough (while pulling back hard on the leash) and ask the trainer what the heck had just happened. He’d tell me that a squirrel had just run by and explain that she was excited because in Quebec (but, she was raised in Ontario) they don’t really have many – yeah, right! Well, after six years of working, Cessna’s still just as excited by those elusive little critters. Instead of yanking her back and getting upset by her reactions though, I’ve learned to just go with the flow. When I feel her getting excited, I’ll stop, ask for a sit and continue walking when she’s calmer. If we’re walking through a park though, I know she’ll be on high alert so I often just resort to putting on her newtrix and avoid the possibility of having my shoulder dislocated – she may be small, but she’s pure muscle!

These little eccentricities are part of what makes me love my dogs.

How many people can say their guide dog dislikes white canes?

Or that they have a guide kangaroo?

What are some of the “unprofessional” behaviours your service dog exhibits, that you’ve decided to celebrate instead of punish?

Canine Memory

So, I know I just posted one yesterday, but after getting a comment on Facebook from Aiden’s boy’s mom, I began thinking the one memory I’d love to forget, from we were fostering him – please don’t choke on your coffee Joanne!

Aiden – The Pulling Machine

Aiden was one of the smartest puppies I’d ever encountered. He seemed to come knowing he had to relieve outside and almost had the “sit” command down within 24 hours of arriving. It took us very little effort to teach him the rest of his basic commands and by the time he was four months, he already knew several tricks and would do them for anyone who asked. Well there was one behavior we were unable to teach him and it actually almost got him washed from the program. No matter how much we worked with him, Aiden just couldn’t understand the concept of heeling.

When he was about eight months of age we were in the mall and he had been overly distracted so I decided it was time to break out the Halti. I got him to sit and then let him sniff it before putting it on. It worked right away. Aiden and I were no longer struggling against one another and he was calmly walking at my side. I was so impressed and thought we had found the cure for the constant sore shoulders we were experiencing. Well, we turned a corner and there, standing in the distance was Amber (his sister) and her foster mom. The second Aiden saw her, he began to pull towards them and I pulled back, first mistake, so he pulled harder. Well, being the dumb ass I am, I did a quick flick of my wrist, trying to get his attention. Instead of accomplishing what I had hoped, the flick caused the Halti to come off his face (he had turned his head) which then caused the leash to follow through with the backward motion of my arm. Well, the Halti, still attached to the leash, flew over my shoulder and just narrowly missed hitting a woman in the face who had been walking by at that exact moment. I didn’t know what to say, and Huib was horrified! Aiden took this moment of confusion to take off running down the hall, where he was caught by Amber’s foster mom. My second mistake of the day, as I’m sure you’ve already figured out, was forgetting to clip the leash to both the collar and Halti. From that day on, we never used the Halti again with Aiden and just worked on trying to convince him not to dislocate our shoulders.

Here’s a picture of the siblings from our trip to St. Jacob’s Market in October of 2008.

I’m sure there are other duh moments from my puppy raising days, but you’ll have to wait, because at the moment I can’t think of another.

“turn your wounds into wisdom.” – Oprah Winfrey

Weekend of Parties

It has been a while since I last posted an entry, so I thought I’d do one today. Friday was my cousin’s wedding. Lance is a year younger than me and works as a criminal defense lawyer in Toronto. Lance and I were always quite close as kids, but as we grew up, we also grew apart. Lance met his wife, Christina, at work about a year ago and it was love at first sight. Unlike most of his family, with their long relationships before marriage, Lance decided after just a year that it was time to propose and get married soon after.

The wedding was nice, the bride’s maids wore fuchsia pink dresses that were all designed to their liking, while the groomsmen wore black suits. The ceremony took place outside near a fountain which created a pleasant mist in the air every once in a while. The guests all sat on white plastic chairs which were decorated with white ribbons. The bride was beautiful coming down the aisle with her father and it was so cute to see Lance’s face as she approached. Being the oldest cousin in the family it is always neat to watch my younger ones grow up and become mature men and women. Our family sat mainly at the back, we’re the rowdy crowd J My younger cousins were all quite well-behaved sitting quietly and waiting for the ceremony to end. My youngest cousin, Harrison, was hilarious though, he has a habit of pushing on his mom’s breast with both hands to get her attention…oh baby, not in public!

The reception took place about an hour after the ceremony ended, the food was good and the desserts were awesome (this coming from someone who dislikes most desserts). Once everyone was nice and full the speeches began. Each speech was well presented, some brought tears to your eyes, while others were just too funny not to smile. The first dance of the night was beautiful, Christina’s dress just flowed around her so nicely. The rest of the night went by pretty quickly, Huib had to work the following day so when 11:00pm came we knew it was time to go.

On Saturday I spent the day with just Phoenix and Aspen, Cessna and Aiden were with my friend who had watched them while we attended the wedding. The day was so quiet and boring. Even though Aspen is only 5 years old, she is like having another older dog in the house. Finally, around 6:30pm Huib came home and we piled into the car and headed off to my friend Jess’s place. Jess was holding a retirement party for her guide dog Jetta. We arrived about half an hour before the other guest arrived and enjoyed greeting Aiden and Cessna who were quite excited to see us all. Aspen came along and created quite an eventful 20 minutes. Aspen has bowel issues and was having problems all day, but we thought she was feeling better so decided to bring her along. Aspen often has bowel flare ups when she is stressed and we believe she was stressed out about Cessna and Aiden’s absence. Well she was greeting Jess and cuddling with her on the couch, then she decided to clime up onto Jess to let Huib know that she needed to go out. Well when she climbed into Jess’s lap her bowels let go and what a mess it was. I was so upset, but also knew that Aspen did not mean for this to happen. Jess was a good sport about it all though which was nice. The party was fun, there were 6 dogs in total (us having 3 of them). Jetta seemed to enjoy her retirement cake along with the others, but didn’t seem to like all the company as much. Jetta will officially retire this coming weekend when she will head to Sault St. Marie with Jess’s parents to live. We will all miss Jetta, but I also know she will love her retirement.

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
– Dr. Seuss

Arrowhead Provincial Park

Last weekend Huib and I took Cessna, Aspen and Aiden camping with my sister Brandi, my friend Karen, my cousin Dakota, and his friend Blair. Overall it was a beautiful weekend, it sprinkled a bit when we first arrived in Huntsville and then sprinkled a bit on Sunday before we left. The weather was warm, but not too hot…great weather for just hanging outdoors and wonderful sleeping weather at night.
Brandi, Huib, the dogs and I all left Guelph around noon and had a nice leisurely four hour drive up to Huntsville. The traffic was pretty light for a Friday afternoon, except of course on the 401 between Mississauga and the 400 cutoff. With our air conditioning not working that great it was nice to be driving on a somewhat cool day for the summer (21 or so). Brandi and the girls sat in the back while Aiden sat at my feet in the front. We drive a Cavalier so it was sort of squishy and at times we weren’t so sure the car was going to make the trip…who would have thought 3 people, 3 dogs and a car full of camping stuff would be too much for a car. Once in Huntsville we met up with Karen and headed to the camp site to drop off stuff before heading into town for some groceries.

Dakota and Blair arrived about an hour or so after us and we helped one another put up the tents. Once the site was all set up we piled into the cars and headed to Walmart, yes, Huntsville does have a Walmart. Since it was sort of moist and we weren’t sure how long it would take to build a proper fire we picked up pizza before heading back to our camp site. The pizza was great and the fire didn’t take overly long to start. After eating we all sat around the fire and chatted, meanwhile Cessna began pawing at the tent to be let in…it was only 9:30pm and we had only been there for a total of 2 hours by that point. Huib let her in and she fell asleep only coming out to pee before the rest of us headed in for the night.

Saturday was beautiful, lots of sun and not too much humidity. After eating eggs and bacon on english muffins we got ready for a trip to the water falls. Brandi, Karen, and I all thought Dakota and Huib knew where we were going so we followed along, but after about 15 minutes of walking we quickly began to realize that they had absolutely no clue. Dakota finally suggested that we take a different direction and we finally arrived at the water falls, after only walking 20 minutes or more…it should have only taken 5! It was rough terrain walking to the falls, quite rocky and lots of tree roots sticking through the ground. Karen did a great job guiding me, but I was happy to take Huib’s arm once we got closer to the falls and the terrain became not only rocky, but sort of clif-like. We had thought the dogs could play in the falls, but we were quite mistaken, the waler was moving quickly and the dogs would have surely been washed away or pulled under. After sitting for a bit we decided to head back to the camp site and have some lunch.

In the afternoon we took the dogs to the pet exercise area and they finally got in their swim. Cessna and Aspen had a great time fetching the hockey ball while Aiden jumped around on the shore. He swam a bit more than the last time he went swimming, but was still more comfortable when he had four paws on solid ground. The black flies were awful near the wate, but we still had a fun couple of hours playing with the dogs. Aspen even met another golden named Meghan. Meghan is 11 years old, but like Phoenix (at 11 ½) still has tons of energy to swim and enjoy herself outdoors.

In the evening we made some hamburgers and sat around the fire chatting and eating marshmallows and spider weenies. By 5:30pm or so Cessna was back in the tent and only came out twice the whole night; once to check out the hot dogs we were eating and another time to go pee before bed. She is really not a camping dog, she loves to be outdoors for hours, but also likes the comforts of home and her bed. She was pretty happy Sunday morning when we began packing the cars up because she knew that home was coming soon. I guess the biggest event of that day was at night when Aiden peed on me! He had been lying by my chair the entire night and hadn’t moved to relieve himself, so when he jumped up to let me know he had to go, he landed on his bladder and it began to flow.

On Monday we picked Phoenix up from his foster family. He stayed with them for four days while we were camping. He has a lot of environmental allergies and doesn’t understand that he is no longer a puppy…therefore, instead of fighting with him to relax or to stay out of the water and dirt we decided it would be best for him to visit his grandma and grandpa. Ray and Alice are in their early 80s and not too active these days so we know Phoenix will be treated well and given tons of opportunity to relax and be himself. When we arrived he was so excited to see me, he wiggled from his nose to the end of his tail. He had had a wonderful time with them and had been spoiled! He has a way of convincing them to give him treats whenever they sit down or even look at him. He loves his grandma and grandpa, but he also loves to be wherever the action is, so with all the walking from here to there around the house he had begun to limp. We had forgotten to send some Aspirin with him, but gave him some when we arrived Monday afternoon so he had a comfortable drive home. He has had a relaxing week at home now and is back to himself with no more limping.

A Chaotic Weekend

Our weekend began with a trip to Amber’s place for a puppy play date. Cessna and Aiden loved the time they got to run and play and chase the Frisbee around the field near Amber’s house. Amber had a good time romping around with Aiden and they tired each other out quite nicely. Gunner, our visitor for the weekend, didn’t have as much fun on the play date because he was stuck on a long leash because we weren’t sure about his recall. Gunner is a 105lbs (slightly overweight) male chocolate Labrador. He was donated to the Autism Dog Services program and is currently under assessment, but being already 14 months old and not overly obedient things are a little more challenging. I wish the director of training luck in the training process, if he decides to accept the challenge.

On Saturday we held a birthday party for our golden, Aspen, and our little 6 month old foster, Aiden. We had a total of 8 dogs in our 2-bedroom condo apartment, it was nuts! Aspen and Aiden had a wonderful party and Aspen was thoroughly spoiled by her friend Thor (10 year old 115lbs golden) and his mom Sharon. She got: a package of snausages, a package of dentasticks, and a bone that has minty flavoured stuff in it from them; fresh beef bones from her friend Harley (the balcony jumper) and his mom Darlene; a squeaky beaver from her friend Jetta and her mom Jess and then a knuckle bone from us in addition to her pink teddy and pool she already got. Aiden was also spoiled with a nylabone ring and a squeaky/crinkly stuffed turtle from us and a Frisbee from his friend Jetta and her mom Jess. In addition to having all of the dogs come over for the party we also made cake for them all to share (even though I am sure Aspen would have loved to have it all to herself). The cake was half rice and half coconut flour with peanut butter mixed into the batter and then some as icing as well. They all enjoyed it thoroughly!

Later on though Cessna began to develop hives and become quite itchy. We noticed the problem when she was running around like a mad dog and rubbing her paws on the carpet…not normal for her at all, even though she is quite an energetic girl! She was covered in red lumps and even her face, ears and legs were swollen. We gave her 2 Benedryl, an Aspirin and a fresh marrow bone to keep her mind off her discomfort. About an hour or so later the swelling and hives began to go down and happily this morning all the redness had disappeared as well. We are guessing she had an allergic reaction to the coconut flour or peanut butter, she has had peanut butter before but only in small doses since the first time she had too much and got the runs for a couple of days. I think we’ll avoid both because we aren’t sure if her sensitivity to the peanut butter has gotten worse or if it was just the coconut flour…better to be safe than sorry. I’m not sure why I keep getting blessed with these dogs with strange problems, but then I guess someone thinks I can handle it.

Today has been a little less eventful, but still tiring. Gunner has a great deal of energy, but being so large can’t be just left to his own desires. I never thought all four of our dogs could be nervous around one dog at the same time. Poor Aiden almost climbed our bedroom door trying to get in and get away from him. And Phoenix got slammed around the living room like a ball in one of those old arcade games. Only one and a half more days before his trainer returns…he really isn’t a bad dog, but he just doesn’t understand his size and isn’t used to being cooped up in a house all day. Our cat learned that he doesn’t understand his size when he had her pinned between his paws, not wanting to hurt her, but he’s 105lbs and she is only 13lbs maybe…luckily she’s a good sport about it all.

A Mix of Stuff

This week and a half has been a week of testing for Aiden, he seems to feel comfortable now in his environment and has begun testing us with a vengeance. I guess I should have known this would come sooner or later, but it was like it had all come about all of a sudden. He is such a good boy, but this week he has chewed the plug off Huib’s power saw, then once it was fixed he decided to chew the entire cord off. In addition to this he has chewed my flip flops and decided that obedience is not in his vocabulary right now. I guess now is truly when the fun begins. So he is close to being the same height and length as Cessna and even weighs almost as much as she does. I think he is going to be huge when he finishes all this growing!

Last Wednesday (June 18) was Aspen’s 5th birthday. I can’t believe it has been that long since we picked her up on August 8th, 2003, I guess time does fly. She was so cute when we got her, not that she isn’t cute now, but she was adorable back then. She looked like a yellow lab puppy and would run with Phoenix, but then all of a sudden decide to stop and sit…poor Phoenix couldn’t stop as quickly so would run right over top of her. Aspen would begin yelping and crying and run back to Huib and I…she was such a drama queen! I remember a couple of days after we had gotten her my aunt and Huib were dropping me off at a camp for the week and my aunt almost fell down their crazy steps. She was carrying Aspen so as she fell she made Aspen roll out of her arms and onto the ground so she didn’t get hurt. Well Aspen laid there on the ground for a full 5 minutes not moving even a hair, my poor aunt thought she had hurt my puppy. Well all of a sudden Aspen got to her feet and began running around like a crazy puppy! Well it has been almost 5 years since then and she is still as dramatic as she used to be and Phoenix is still her best buddy. She likes Cessna and Aiden, but she absolutely loves Phoenix and sometimes we think she wishes he’d go get his battery changed or get a new engine. She will run circles around him trying to get him to play with her, but he just doesn’t have the energy to do it these days, I’m not sure what she will do when her best buddy is no longer with us. For her birthday this year she got a stuffed pink teddy that squeaks and a pool to play in when it’s warm.

Last Tuesday (June 17) we took the dogs to the Rockwood Conservation Area to swim. They had such a great time, swam for over 45 minutes and then we went for a walk to the caves and back. It was pretty cool out though so we didn’t get to enjoy our trip overly much, hopefully the warmer weather will soon return. In In the evening though Cessna began to scream whenever she would sit or try and “swish” her tail (Cessna doesn’t wag, she swishes). I was so upset about her screaming because I knew immediately what had happened. She has rudder tail again, she had gotten it the first summer I had her and now again L Rudder tail is from swimming too fast, too hard and for too long…it is sort of like they sprain their tail. I had a feeling I shouldn’t have let her swim so much, but she was having such a great time I didn’t want to make her stop. Well we gave her an Aspirin and it seemed to help dramatically, within about half an hour she was able to sit comfortably. As of Saturday she was fine and her tail no longer looked like it was just pinned to her.

This week has been busy, but fun at the same time. Saturday we were supposed to go to the Multicultural Festival in Kitchener, but it was storming like crazy…the weather these past few weeks has been nothing we’ve ever seen before. On Monday Cessna, my sister and I all headed to Toronto to visit with my friend Lynette and her new guide dog DeeDee. DeeDee is so tiny and so cute. She wasn’t overly sure about Cessna with her energy, but I think after a few times of seeing her DeeDee will understand that Cessna is just playful. This coming weekend we will be having a birthday party for Aspen (5th) and Aiden (6 months). We invited about 15 different dogs and their moms, but only 12 will be attending including my gang. I will post pictures if we get some good ones, last time we had a party for Aspen the pictures didn’t turn out overly well. I know it sounds weird to have a birthday party for your dog and to invite so many other dogs, but I am who I am and well my dogs are not just dogs to me, they are my family. I am always being told that I have too many and that I should get rid of some, but I just tell those people not to come visit if it bothers them because my dogs are all well behaved and get tons of love and exercise so to me that is all that matters.

“Live the life you love , love the life you live.”

A Week of New Beginnings

This week has been a week of many doors opening for me. On Monday I met with a local dog trainer (www.dogsinthepark.ca) who I will be apprenticing with, while also helping her with her service dog organization, K9 Helpers. This organization works to train dogs for people with various psychiatric conditions.

As the client support staffer within K9 Helpers, I will be working toward taking over the administration aspects of the organization, while also working within their intake and follow-up programs. When the public calls the office to inquire about the program I will be the one to call people back with the information they request. Using my social work degree I will be able to help the organization re-work their application process, as well as by acting as a liaison between them and the individual client teams. I am really looking forward to the opportunity I have been given to not only use my social work degree, but to also learn things about an area I am passionate about, service dogs.

This week in my apprenticeship I have begun to learn clicker training. I am currently using Cessna as my trial dog, since I might as well work on problems with her before trying to help others with their dogs. She seems to be taking well to clicker training so far, she is beginning to learn what the click sound means and is beginning to re-learn the importance of focusing. On Monday we worked on teaching her that she will only get a treat when she pays attention to me and not to what is being thrown in front of her. Thursday we began to work on teaching her to “choose to heel”. She is a very smart girl, but quite impatient at the same time. She wants to please most of the time, but gets bored easily by training sessions and therefore begins to focus on the person with the treats rather than on the person (me) who she needs to focus on. I think after a while she will begin to learn the meaning of the clicker and the importance of focusing on me and her work, and not on the world around her. I think these training sessions will do wonders for us both; for my shoulder, for my frustrations, and for her overall desire to work hard and help me, help her to enjoy herself even when we aren’t out playing fetch.

Today was a crazy warm day, it got up to 40 degrees celsius with the humidex. Our dogs are not finding this weather too pleasurable, but they will learn to tolerate it after a while. Aiden is having the roughest time adjusting to the warm weather, he was born just before Christmas so this warmer weather is terribly tough to get used to. We went to the mall this afternoon to try and give him a bit of a break from the warmth, we have an air conditioner in our bedroom and a large fan at the end of the hall to help the air circulate, but it still seems a little warm in here. He did quite well at the mall, but I found it hard on my shoulder when he would continually pull down to sniff something. I decided to try a halti for a few seconds just to see if it might make a difference. He hated it, but it at least gave my shoulder some relief, but then we came upon his sister with her foster mom and she was so excited to see him that he also got excited. In that few seconds I pulled back on the leash to try and get him under control, but instead of restraining him the halti came off and the leash went flying over my back and almost hit a woman in the face. I was so shocked at what Huib told me had happened, that I didn’t get a chance to say sorry, but I am sure she understood that it was an accident…an embarrassing one on my part, but definitely an accident. No more haltis for our little guy, I think I’ll just have to find a better way of getting him over his need to pull down on the leash.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
– Albert Einstein