The Rogue Lesson

No matter what we think, our dogs are always watching and learning.

This is the most important lesson rogue has taught me.

Let me explain.

As most of my blog readers already know, Rogue is my Guide Dog In Training.

Cessna will be 10 years old tomorrow, so I would like to begin retiring her after Christmas. She could still work another year or so, but I would like to have her enjoy at least a couple years of care-free pet life before she becomes too old to do so.

I began Rogue’s formal guide work training last fall, starting with basic forward guiding in hallways. Over the past year, Rogue has learned how to:

Follow directional cues;
Take me around various obstacles;
Manoeuvre through crowds;
Find doors, curbs and stairways;
Stop at curbs; and more recently,
She has gone on short trips with me.

The past twelve months have not been smooth sailing. It seems as though, for every success, there have been double the obstacles.

First we had the gear issue. rogue has always had a problem with how certain gear feels and it takes her a really long time to get used to wearing something as simple as a new collar.

Then we had the confidence issue. It’s probably pretty normal, but to me, it seems as though rogue takes a lot longer to feel comfortable with a new concept or route. when we begin working on a new route, for example, she will often stop every few steps to check in with me, or if she’s feeling really uncertain, she’ll sit and refuse to move. Even if i can get her moving, it honestly feels as though she is walking with a pickle between her bum cheeks. but, once she feels good about the new route, she picks up speed and walks faster than Cessna’s usual pace.

Our most recent problems though have been my fault. I have forgotten something important. I forgot how easy it is to “teach” a dog something you didn’t mean to “teach” them.

Rogue is very close to being able to take over, at least part-time, from Cessna. We just have one little problem.

Somehow, I taught Rogue that it is important for her to stop three feet back from a down curb and at least a foot back from the up curb – Whoopsie!

How did I teach her such a thing you ask?

It was a little easier than you’d think…

While we were working on learning to stop at curbs, I would dramatically tell Rogue that she had overstepped the curb edge and then immediately turn back and re-do it. the problem came from the distance I tended to walk back to before approaching the curb again. for some reason, I kept walking three feet back from a down curb and about a foot back from an up curb – Double whoopsie!

Now Rogue thinks she needs to stop exactly where we used to stop when re-working the curb…

Here i thought Rogue was having trouble learning what I wanted, when in fact, she was giving me exactly what I had taught her to do – Silly Human!

In order to fix the mistake, I have asked Huib to help me re-teach rogue proper curb approaches. he takes her out, in harness, to practice five up curbs and five down curbs each day. It’s taken her about two weeks, but she’s begun to have a 90% success rate, so we’ve begun going out together and Huib stops me the second Rogue is about to overstep a curb or tells me to keep going if she’s beginning to slow down too soon. when rogue does it correctly, Huib clicks and I give her a treat.

It’s amazing to look back at all rogue and I have accomplished in twelve months, but it’s more amazing, to look back at all of the lessons she’s taught me.

She’s taught me that not every dog learns the same way. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

She taught me that sometimes you need to step back and appreciate what you’ve already learned.

She’s taught me that no matter how well-behaved she can be, she is and always will be a dog.

She’s taught me that I’m not perfect.

and, most importantly, she’s taught me that it may not look like it, but she’s always watching and learning.

Wine Country Kennel Club

Sorry it took me so long to write about the Wine Country Kennel Club conformation dog show, but it was kind of a horrible weekend.

Judi (canyon’s co-breeder) picked us up early Saturday (October 12) morning and we headed to Welland. Canyon and Emmie were two of just six golden retrievers at the show, so right off the bat we knew it wasn’t going to be amazing. When we arrived, we set up the x-pens, camping chairs and shelter, then Huib started getting both goldens ready for the ring. Canyon’s coat was awesome and for some reason, his tail has gotten fuller, so we were really hoping he’d do well. Emmie’s coat, on the other hand, was not cooperating. It was overly wavy and has gotten thinner since she started to show. Once they were all groomed, Huib took each of them out for a quick tour around the fair grounds to practice walking and give them a chance to take in all of the sights and sounds. Then, at 10:30am it was show time.

Huib and Canyon were perfect! Canyon seems to know what he’s doing and barely needs Huib at all. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the judge’s type and ended up getting nothing, except for 1st place in the Canadian Bred Dog class because he was the only one entered. When it was time for Huib and emmie to enter, I took Canyon and they did their thing. emmie was absolutely horrible! Huib nicknamed her the bucking bronco and couldn’t do anything to get her to stop galloping and jumping around like a horse.

And, sadly, the next two days went the same for both dogs.

Judi thinks showing is just not emmie’s thing and will most likely stop trying to get her Canadian Championship.

canyon still loves the show ring, so we’ve scheduled him to have the inflamed gland on the lower lid of his left eye removed on October 30th. In addition to the worry that he might end up getting a major eye infection from injuring the spot, we think that having the spot removed will help his chances in the show ring and hopefully he’ll get an opportunity to finally get his title.

I’m not sure how much I’ve said about the spot on the lower lid of his left eye, but we took him for a surgical consult on the 15th, and were told that it’s not actually a cyst, but an inflamed gland. the vet told us that dogs and humans have glands in their eye lids and that sometimes they become inflamed, but usually return to normal. She said that sometimes this doesn’t happen, so the gland needs to be completely removed. canyon’s inflamed gland is right next to his tear duct, so she said that it’s even more important that we have it done.

This will be Canyon’s first time having surgery, so hopefully nothing eventful happens. He’ll have his blood drawn before the surgery in order to make sure all of his values are normal and we’ve also asked them to run his thyroid since Hypothyroidism is really common in golden retrievers. The surgery will last about 20 to 30 minutes and then we’ll pick him up sometime after 1:00pm. We’ll stay with him in the waiting room before the surgery while he is given the mild sedation and then the vet will take him into the surgical suite to have the rest done. He’ll have to wear the “cone of shame” for about a week and then she said he should be totally fine to return to his normal activities.

I’ll let everyone know how the surgery goes, but I don’t suspect it will be anything major.

Back On Campus

yesterday, I had my first class on campus, after 9 years away.

Nine years ago, I graduated from the University of guelph, with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and Public Policy. Since graduating, I completed a social work degree at McMaster University and have taken three courses online through the University of guelph, but I haven’t taken any courses on campus.

I hope to apply for masters, starting next fall, so I’ve decided to continue taking a class each semester, in order to improve my Grade Point Average.

this semester, I am taking a 4th year advanced topics course that looks at the area of human rights.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been thinking about doing a masters thesis relating to human rights, so I thought this course might be a good starting point.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working with the labs on becoming familiar with the University campus. Since losing a bit more of my sight almost two years ago, I’ve had to relearn how to work with and trust Cessna, while also training Rogue. Even though I lived in guelph for almost 10 years, and attended the University for 5 of those years, I’ve had to relearn the city and campus, while also trying to regain some confidence.

When Cessna and I arrived at the University, we got off the bus and headed toward the University Centre. We found the first crossing with no problem, but then became disoriented. We were supposed to go over-left a bit and then continue walking forward, but Cessna continued walking to the left and I didn’t realize until I started hearing sounds that told me we were approaching an intersection. I turned around and asked her to go forward and then stopped to listen for sounds that might help me find the correct route. I knew we were close to the spot we needed to be, but couldn’t quite figure it out, so listened for someone to walk by. I heard someone and asked for help, a couple of people walked by, but then a woman stopped and said she was also going to the University Centre. I had Cessna follow her, and was quite amused by the woman. She kept telling Cessna to come along and when we got to some steps, Cessna paused to tell me, and the woman started saying “Up, up, come on, up…”. I almost laughed. Thankfully the woman’s calls fell on deaf ears and Cessna kept me safe. When we got to the University Centre, the woman went her way and I had Cessna find the spot where we were supposed to meet our guide. I ended up having to call my guide, we had missed each other, but we found each other in the end and I made it to class a few minutes before the professor arrived.

Cessna slept through the class and we got back to the bus and home without any further complications.

I’m going to take Cessna to campus a couple of times this week to work on our route to the University Centre, so that hopefully on Friday we won’t end up lost.

The Rogue roller Coaster

The past month has been full of ups and downs for rogue and I.

We are really getting into the tough part of training and it’s been quite the roller coaster.

We’ve had really good training sessions, and then we’ve had okay training sessions. I guess a positive part of all this is that we haven’t had any really bad training sessions.

Rogue is getting really comfortable with her new working gear and she is slowly settling into her guiding responsibilities.

I’ve been really focusing on her curb approaches, directions and confidence.

I’ve been trying to find friends willing to work with us, to give Rogue an opportunity to work without Huib.

I find my dogs get really comfortable with Huib and forget to focus on their jobs. they get into the habit of expecting Huib to take care of me, instead of just working along side him. It’s not just a problem rogue has, but one both Cessna and Phoenix have been guilty of.

Since Rogue and I did a lot of work in malls when we lived in the north, she is extremely confident and her work is almost always spot on. We had two really amazing training sessions that I wish i could have videoed. Her pace was amazing, her obstacle work was perfect, and her precision had me speechless.

Then, when we went to London to see my neuro ophthalmologist, she had me again speechless. She was guiding me around people and through the hospital hallways with such confidence, you’d think she had been there before. she was turning left and right when I asked and she only blew her up curbs by a couple of steps. Huib was with us and was so proud of the work we had done.

Last week I took Rogue and Cessna to the University of Guelph to learn the route from the bus stop to my class. I decided to start by working with Cessna, and then do it with Rogue. I thought Rogue would be able to learn from watching Cessna work – I was completely wrong. When it was Rogue’s turn, her pace was slow, we struggled with our curb approaches but her obstacle work and overall work was okay. I was frustrated because I didn’t understand where my confident little worker had gone.

On Saturday I returned to the campus with a friend to do some more work with Rogue. We still struggled with our curb approaches, she keeps stopping a few feet away from the down curb and then when we inch our way closer, she ends up blowing the curb by a couple of steps. her up curbs were a little better, but she was still taking a couple steps too much. her pace was better though and looking back, I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that her confidence level was higher, since we had been to the campus before. We worked on the route from the bus stop to my class and Rogue did well at finding the stairs, finding the doors, finding the ramps and even finding the elevator, but I think the biggest thing I realized was that I didn’t trust her. I was okay when I knew there wasn’t any stairs I could fall down, but as soon as I knew, or even thought, there were stairs coming up, I felt myself tensing and noticed Rogue’s attention drifting.

overall, I’d have to say rogue worked well, but I need work.

After talking to some friends about the work Rogue and I have done over the past month, I came to the conclusion that we aren’t going to get to the point where she can take over from Cessna if I don’t start getting her out daily. If I’m going to trust rogue, like I trust Cessna, then I am going to have to put in the time.

I’m going to get my cane out and use it to help rogue learn exactly where I want her to stop at curbs and stairs, while also using it to give me confidence that we’re safe.

I think the curb issues stem from something i unintentionally taught her.

To be honest, it seems that most of the issues I have with my dogs are because of something I unintentionally teach, lol!

I’m really going to try and make a conscious effort to get Rogue out daily, even if it means we need to work a bit in the rain.

A Golden Visitor

For the past week and a half, we’ve had a visitor.

Emmie, or Fortknox’s Burning Ember, is owned by Canyon’s co-breeder, Judi of Ramblin Goldens.

Judi has wanted to begin showing Emmie, but has been quite busy. We keep in touch with Judi and give her random updates on how Canyon is doing. During one of these updates, I mentioned that we were planning on entering Canyon into the Oakville & district Kennl Club show on September 14th and 15th. Judi emailed back to say she wanted to get Emmie started on her championship title, but hadn’t yet gotten around to it. I wrote back to say that if she wanted, Huib and I wouldn’t mind working with emmie and getting her ready to enter with Canyon.

Judi dropped Emmie off almost two weeks ago and we have been working on teaching emmie to walk nicely on leash and to stack.

It’s been a lot of fun having emmie visit. our dogs aren’t always a fan of visitors who stay without their “humans”, but they have accepted Emmie like one of the pack. she’s very well behaved and interacts well with each of the dogs.

The Oakville show is in just over a week and we have been working hard on getting Emmie ready.

But, we’ve run into a bit of a problem.

Canyon has thrown Emmie into heat a month early – WHOOPSIE!

As a result, Judi will be coming to pick her up on Saturday and will have to cancel her entry into the show. It’s possible to show a female in heat, but Judi doesn’t want to cause any problems for or with the other exhibitors – Huib and I totally agree with her decision. At the last oakville show, there was a female Pointer in heat and Canyon was so interested in her that he snapped his show leash three minutes before him and Huib were due in the ring, lol!

As long as all goes well, Emmie will be bred with Canyon’s sire, Blaze. This means there should be puppies sometime in November, and it’s possible…we may have one of the puppies join the ruled by paws gang…

Update On Cessna’s Dental Surgery

One week ago, Cessna went for a check with the doggie dentist. Dr Hale wanted to make sure her incisions were healing and that her stitches were dissolving properly.

We received some bad news.

the lower left molar was not healing. the stitches had come apart at some point and because of the exposed bone, the wound wasn’t healing over. Dr hale scheduled Cessna for surgery that afternoon.

I was so worried. I had been worried enough about her going under anesthetic for her initial dental surgery, but now I was really concerned. We brought her to the office and she was given a sedative and waited in the waiting room with us until Dr hale was ready. Huib and I brought some things to keep us occupied so we could stay at the office – I didn’t want to leave my little Cessnaroo.

the surgery went by quickly and Cessna came back out almost perfectly wide awake.

Dr hale told us that we would have to have her wear the “cone of shame” or have her on leash, to make sure she doesn’t rub her face. He thinks that Cessna probably broke open the stitches when she rubbed her face on the carpet or couch. I told him I’d keep her on leash and put a bell on her collar so I know what she is doing at all times.

He sent us home with four days worth of Meticam and five days worth of Tramadol.

It’s been a week since the surgery and so far I think the stitches are holding up. She has an appointment scheduled for next week to see if she’ll finally get the all clear. In the meantime, she’ll stay on leash and have the bell on her collar – I don’t want her to have any more surgery.

Dental Surgery

One week and four days ago, Cessna had dental surgery.

Back in June, I took her to see a doggie dentist for a free check and he found several teeth that needed to be extracted.

When we arrived at the doggie dentist office, he gave Cessna a sedative. We sat with her in the waiting room so it could take effect. Cessna was then taken into the back to have an IV inserted and to have x-rays done before we left.

In June, we’d learned that Cessna had a broken premolar, a chipped upper incisor and two loose lower incisors that all needed to be extracted. After the x-rays were done, we learned that Cessna has a condition where her body is reabsorbing the roots of her teeth. This meant that some of her other teeth would need to be removed because they were just sitting in her mouth.

In total, Cessna had two lower molars, an upper premolar, an upper incisor and four lower incisors extracted.

The condition that Cessna has can progress or stay the same, so each year Cessna will need to go for x-rays and possibly have more teeth removed.

After we learned the results of the x-ray we were told we could leave for an hour, so we went home to grab some breakfast.

When we returned to pick Cessna up, she was beginning to wake up from the anesthetic, so we waited. When she could stand they had us take her outside so she could walk a bit on the pavement. We then took her home and gave her a Tramadol before bringing her into our bedroom for some rest. She was in some pain before the Tramdol kicked in, so she was whimpering. Huib grabbed a pillow and blanket and fell asleep on the floor with Cessna curled up against him.

After about three days, Cessna began to feel better and over the past week she has been trying to play tug and fetch again.

We take her to see the doggie dentist on Wednesday to see whether she can start eating her regular meals or if she needs to continue eating boneless meats.

Eye Checks

Today, we took Rogue and Cessna to a CERF clinic held in simcoe. Rogue is now 27 months, so I wanted to make sure her vision was good before we continued her training.

A blind guide dog isn’t too much help to a blind person 😉

Two years ago, we took Cessna and Canyon to a CERF clinic held in Kitchener and learned that she had developed tiny cataracts. Since Dr Nick Whelan, was going to be the ophthalmologist at this clinic, I thought I’d get Cessna’s eyes rechecked. Well…the news was both good and bad. the good news is that Cessna can still see perfectly fine, but the bad news is that she now has three additional cataracts in her right eye. At the last check she had just three in that eye, but now there are six. There are still only two in her left eye though, which also good, I guess…

Dr Whelan says that she will most likely develop more of these tiny cataracts, which will at some point interfere with her vision, but that they will probably continue to remain tiny. I’m both happy and sad with this news. I’m happy that Cessna can still work with me, but I’m sad to know that someday she may not be able to see well enough to chase her beloved squirrels and chipmunks.

Moving on to better news. Rogue’s vision is perfect! Other than some capillaries that didn’t go away at birth, something that doesn’t effect her vision, she’s got perfect amber coloured eyes.

With CERF clinics being so inexpensive and most doctors offering free exams to service dogs, I really don’t see why dog guide programs aren’t asking their clients to take their dogs on an annual basis. If it weren’t for Canyon’s need to get his clearances for breeding, I would never have known Cessna was developing cataracts. The cataracts aren’t causing any issues with her vision, so we’re a safe team, but it’s still a good thing to know and keep tabs on.

Cessna’s Teeth

On Friday, Huib and I took Cessna to see Dr Fraser hale. Dr Hale was participating in the free oral exams for service dogs program, so we thought it would be a good opportunity to have him look over Cessna’s mouth and let us know what needed to be done with the premolar Dr B had pointed out.

Cessna was not happy with this appointment. She doesn’t really like having people poke and prod her, so having some strange guy hold her mouth open and touch her teeth was not fun. She was a trooper though, and let Dr hale do what he needed to do.

Dr Hale found not only the premolar Dr B had already pointed out, but three additional issues. Cessna needs to get the premolar extracted in addition to three incisors. She chipped one of her top incisors a long time ago, which has Dr Hale worried about infection, but she has also caused two lower incisors to become loose. I’m not really sure what happened to the lower incisors, but I’m thinking it might have something to do with her attempts to catch frisbees and other toys while we play fetch.

She’s not exhibiting any discomfort at the moment, so we have scheduled the extraction for August 14th, which happens to be the first appointment time Dr Hale has available.

Next Sunday we’re taking Rogue and Cessna to have their eyes tested, hopefully we’ll have better news to report there.

Itchy Canyon

We’re at a loss…

We don’t know what is wrong…

But, for the past few days, Canyon has been panting, scratching, licking and biting himself.

This happened last summer, right around this time, but, like now, we had no clue how to help him.

We talked to the vet last year and she checked him all over. She couldn’t find anything wrong.

We tried allergy medication for a month, just to see if it was the pollen causing him to be uncomfortable. It didn’t help.

we tried spraying him with doggie insect repellent to prevent the black flies and mosquitoes from feasting on him, it didn’t seem to make a difference.

The only way we were able to stop the obsessive scratching, licking and biting, was by making him wear t-shirts and sometimes booties on his back feet.

so, guess what?

canyon is back to wearing t-shirts and booties on his back feet.

Since we’re taking a break from conformation, Canyon developed a cyst on the lower lid of his left eye in january that needs to be surgically removed, we decided to try leaving him alone and seeing what damage he’d do to his coat and skin before he stopped.

Well, within just a couple of days, he has a small scabbed area behind his left ear and on his chest.

so, leaving him to his own devices isn’t going to work.

Thankfully, he seems to like wearing the t-shirts, and tolerates the boots.

We gave Canyon and Cessna baths this morning, she was also scratching a bit more than we’d like, so we’ll see if maybe there was some dirt in their coats.

While combing Canyon this evening, Huib noticed that he has a bit of a heat rash, so we’ve sprayed his groin area with some stuff that is supposed to help with itchiness. we’ve also turned the central air on so the house is nice and cool.

He seems a bit more comfortable tonight, and really hasn’t been panting, so maybe it’s the heat, maybe it was a bug bite or maybe it was dirt.

But, since it’s Canyon, we’ll probably never know. he’s such an obsessive dog when it comes to some things.