Eleven Months


Today Aiden and Libby turn 11 months. It hasn’t been long since Libby arrived, but it has been almost 9 months since Aiden came to our home. He has grown so much and matured even more. Given his size and maturity level people often think he is over a year of age. We had a bit of a rough period, but he seems to have gone through it and is moving along in his learning now.

We are not yet sure who our little guy will help in the future, but we believe he will make a wonderful companion for a young child. He has such a calm and laid back disposition and his personality is full of charm. I sometimes wonder what he will be like as an adult, seeing as he is already so mature and well behaved.

I am glad we will have Aiden until after his first birthday, but I also know that January is not far away. If for any reason he does not make the cut though, he will be welcomed back with open arms.

Libertie Belle Has arrived



On Saturday afternoon Aiden’s breeder arrived with his litter mate, we have named Libertie Belle or Libby for short. Libby is a very petite girl, very slender for a lab. She is the colour of vanilla ice cream with carmel mixed into different spots like her ears, the lower part of her bum, and somewhat on her back. She has a pink nose and light brown pigments around her eyes and mouth (I think). Libby is so different looking from her brother who is dark caramel in colour, very tall, long and thick. They get along beautifully though, she doesn’t allow him to push her around and he doesn’t protest when she wrestles him to the ground.

Libby has been with us for just over 24 hours now and seems to already be settling into the group. She doesn’t bother the older ones and she understands that enough is enough when Aiden climbs up onto the couch or under the desk for a nap. It is so cute to watch Aiden and Libby play together and I am sure after a while the others will begin to join in on the fun.

For now we are working on leash manners and not jumping up on people, but soon we will move on to learning some of the basic obedience commands such as “down” and “stay”. She already seems to know “sit” and “come” but they too will need to be worked on in order to make sure we can firmly trust that she knows them. Even though it has only been a short time since she arrived I can already tell that she will be a good student and with her high desire to please I think she will be very successful and a wonderful companion for us.

She’s Five!

A week ago today (October 30th) Cessna turned 5. It is hard to believe we’ve been together for three and a half years now. She has matured so much in the past year, I guess females matured later than males because I remember the “light bulb” turning on a lot earlier for Phoenix. Cessna has been a wonderful companion for me and I know our next few years of working will only bring us closer.

Cessna has been doing advanced obedience classes and has been excelling in her lessons. Her work has improved tons and she seems to be enjoying the lessons. She is doing so well that the dog trainer I am working with asked me to inquire about getting a copy of her Canadian Kennel Club registration papers. I wrote her program head and today was given the green light to begin competing when I feel ready to do so. I was quite nervous about asking, but am absolutely thrilled with the answer. I think Cessna will like the challenge and that she will not only get better in her primary job, but also excel in her competitions.

I don’t know many dogs who have this continuous desire to learn, but no matter what I ask of her, Cessna continues to step up to the challenge with her usual excitement.

“… it takes a strong-minded human to appreciate a strong-minded dog!”

A Medley of News

Looking at my blog today I realized that I haven’t posted in over two weeks and there is so much new to say. Aiden has now had four stay classes and is doing wonderfully! He is understanding now that I will not pay attention to him if he is not lying down in a stay position and it takes very little time for him to go back down after getting up for a moment. When we first began it could take as long as 15 minutes for him to lie back down, but now it sometimes takes as little as me just turning my back on him. I am so proud of my little guy, he is only 9 months old now, but acts so mature and adult-like. This Sunday we will be missing our class, but I will continue to practice while we are away. Last week instead of just staying, the dogs are now learning to relax as well.

On Wednesday Cessna and I began a Foundations class with Dogs In The Park. In this six week class she will learn some of the basic obedience skills needed for becoming a competition dog. I know she should know her basic obedience commands, but in this class we are taking it a step further by asking her to do them completely off leash and slightly differently. She is learning to stay like Aiden is in his class, but instead of only doing down-stays we are instead practicing a stay they are not as good at…this varies depending on the dog. For Cessna it is the down-stay, she does stays well in a sit position, but she isn’t as good about staying in a down when asked. To her, it is good enough to have her bum always on the ground, she doesn’t see why it matters whether she is in a down or a sit as long as she is staying. The class began with us practicing stays, then we moved on to teaching our dogs to come to the front of us. Cessna caught on quickly to this, so we moved on to trying to get them to touch a “target”. She was not so good at this, she became impatient and started to paw me and bark in frustration. The next skill we worked on was heeling, because she is already able to heel well on the left we began to teach her to heel on the right (just a note, that all of this class is done off leash). Cessna took a bit to figure out what I wanted, but soon got really good at it so instead of just standing and waiting for her to get into the right side heel I began taking steps away as she approached my right side. I guess after a bit she will begin to just walk along beside me without any issues. The class ended with us introducing the dogs to the barrels holding the bar they would later jump over. We walked through and whenever the dog walk over the bar we clicked and gave them treats. Once they were good at this we began walking around the barrels and getting them to walk between and over the bar. I think this class will not only give Cessna different abilities and learning opportunities, but that it will also improve her guide work because she will learn to focus better and listen to commands easier.

My final update is about my friend Jess who has now returned from Beijing and is at Leader Dog in Michigan getting her new guide dog. In Beijing she ended her paralympic swimming career on a high note, breaking her personal time records. She is not yet sure what she will fill all her free time with, but in January she will be starting massage school which will hopefully lead to a position on the National Paralympic team as their massage therapist. She has been at Leader Dog since September 21st and received her new partner in crime on the following Wednesday. Glacier is a 1 ½ year old male yellow (more white) lab, weighing in at 67lbs. I have not yet gotten a chance to meet him, but we are going to visit her on Sunday and will hopefully get some pictures to share. Even though Jess and Glacier have only been together for a week and a half she says they have bonded more in that time than her and Jetta (her previous guide) bonded in six months. Jetta was a wonderful guide dog, but she was not an affectionate or playful dog. Jetta is settling nicely into her retired life with Jess’s parents in Sault Ste Marie. I will update you all on their progress as time goes on.

Stay Class

Sunday Aiden and I had our first “stay” class. He is the youngest dog in the class by far, but did quite well. He was also the only lab in the class which meant treats were a big distraction! He impressed us though, staying for more than 10 minutes straight most times. This was only our first group session so with time he will improve even more.

Today I met up with a classmate, who also used to be one of my professors. Our dogs were tethered to posts on opposite sides of a driveway and we walked back and forth between them…only giving treats when they were staying in a down position. Both Aiden and Tyson did well, getting up at times, but we didn’t need to wait long before they laid back down. I can already see an improvement in Aiden’s stays and am curious to see how well he can do them after the 8 weeks of class. I can really see the benefit in training a dog using solely reinforcements, but am wondering if whoever gets him in the future can keep this up. He is a very fast learner and I am finding that he seems to be learning the concept of “stay” a lot better using this method than the usual one of “punishment”.

For those who aren’t familiar with this method I will describe what we do. I will ask Aiden to lay down and then only tell him once to “stay”. I will then walk away and only return when he is staying in a down position. When he stands or does anything other than lying down I will keep my back turned to him. When he returns to the down position I immediately go over to him and give him a treat and then continue this cycle until the end of our session when I will “jackpot” him which means he gets treat after treat and then can be released from the “stay”. The opposite to this method is “punishment” where I would continually go back to him and put him back into a “down” position. The theory behind the “reinforcement” method is that a dog will begin to understand that he only gets attention when he is doing the desired behaviour and will be ignored when he is not.

I will update everyone on his progress as time goes on

He’s Grown So Much…

I haven’t specifically written a post about Aiden in a while so I thought I’d do one today. Aiden has grown up to be such a handsome young man. He will be 9 months old on the 23rd and is already slightly taller and longer than my retired dog guide, weighing more than when I first got Phoenix as well at 67lbs! I will admit, Phoenix is not a big dog by any means (24 inches tall; 22 inches long & 70lbs while retired), but he is an 11 year old male so it still shocks me that Aiden has surpassed him in size at 9 months of age. Gone are the days when Cessna (21 inches tall; 19 inches long & 62lbs) could tower over Aiden and look so big beside him.

We had our first training session with his trainer in over a month and he was so amazed at how nicely Aiden had filled out and matured. He is no longer the silly looking puppy with the big head, big paws and small body. He is still tall and slim, but now his head and paws actually seem to suit his frame. At the session we did some obedience and some staying while people walked here and there through the mall. Aiden did overly well, he was a little too interested in what I had for him, but with time his stays will improve and his desire for all food will lessen – at least we hope it will!! I was so proud of my little Monkey Man, he was so well behaved and didn’t seem as young as he really is. His trainer commented that he looked great for 10 months, and I reminded him that he was actually only 8 months, this impressed him even more.

Over the past couple of weeks we have had some visitors which have both excited Aiden and also made him a little jealous. Foxy (foster puppy for National Service Dogs) came to visit for a week and Aiden loved to play and wrestle with her, she is only a month older than him so has a similar energy level. At times though I think Aiden wished she’d actually leave him alone so he could have a nap…oh baby boy, you are so lazy for your age! Foxy went home last Saturday and then we had a 7 month old male golden retriever come to visit for a bit. The golden wasn’t a huge fan of Aiden as he was also not yet neutered. I felt terrible seeing Aiden nervous to come near us and after only 6 days of assessing the golden, we decided to take him and his brother (who was staying with a friend) back to their breeder. They will some day make wonderful pets for someone, but I feel it would take too much time and effort to make them into successful service dogs. Aiden has been happy to finally have his home back and be the only puppy in the place, but to our sadness the weather has been quite rainy and for some reason Aiden’s energy level has decided to peak at this time… Hopefully soon we can get him out running every day so we can finally get a handle on this energy!

This afternoon Aiden and I will be joining a “stay” class which is held by Sue Alexander of Dogs in The Park. She believes in a dog’s ability to learn through reward rather than punishment. Aiden has so far been trained using the “punishment” way of doing things, but I am hoping that this class might help both him and I, him with his stays and me with learning the way of training through “reward” rather than “punishment”. We had a preliminary training session on Thursday and Aiden seemed to catch on slowly. We’ve been practicing this all weekend, I am hoping it will show, but I worry that his energy level might get in the way of his learning, especially when there will be other dogs in the room learning as well.

Please keep your fingers crossed for us! I will let you all know how it goes.

Is Your Dog Really Perfect?

“My dog is better than yours” a common phrase heard within the dog owner community. What makes a perfect dog? One that comes when you call, sits when you say, walks by your side as if you are the most important thing to them, waits patiently for your command, ignores other dogs who pass…well get a robot.

Do you sit patiently and wait for your parents, friends, spouse or whoever to tell you what to do? Do you listen intently to people who talk to you as if everything they say is gospel? Then why should we expect our dogs to do this? Like us, our dogs are not perfect and make mistakes and have good days and bad. I have met many more dogs who I would love to spend hours with than humans. Dogs are non-judgmental. Dogs aren’t afraid to show you how they are feeling or to let you know when they have had enough. Dogs don’t try to impress us or hide their desires – the amount of drool hanging from their jowls gives them away.

I don’t want a dog who listens every second of every day. I don’t want a dog who waits patiently for me to tell them what to do. I don’t want a dog who worships me. I want a dog who has spirit. I want a dog who loves doing what they do, not one who does it because that is what they were raised to do. I want a dog who thinks for them self. I want a dog who will tell me no and that I am expecting too much. I want a dog who will test me and give me a reality check when one is needed. That is why Phoenix, Cessna, Aspen and Aiden are four of the most important mammals in my life.

Phoenix wears a colourful party hat at Aspen's birthday party.I have had Phoenix for ten years now and he will be 12 in October. Some people would assume he was a perfect dog given his age and experience, but he is far from it. Phoenix isn’t afraid to give you the “f*** you” look when he isn’t in the mood to listen or feels he is above you. My husband gets the “f*** you” look on a weekly basis from Phoenix and gets little reminders every once in a while that he is third in command, me being the first and Phoenix the second. Don’t get me wrong, Phoenix is and will always be my buddy, he came to me when I was 17 and taught me how to be responsible, what being independent felt like, and what unconditional love truly meant. I can remember the times we’d be at school and I wouldn’t let him do something he wanted, he would give me a dirty look as he walked me full force into a garbage can. I’d correct him and he would just look up with this huge smile and his tail wagging.

Close up of Cessna wearing a white baseball cap.Cessna’s picture should be beside the word “spirit” in the dictionary. She is the true definition of a dog with spirit. She works well and loves her job, but she also loves to just drop the professionalism and go crazy. She is a dog who loves life and makes sure to make the most of it, sometimes it is as if she knows she won’t live forever. I can take her into Toronto and feel absolutely safe following behind her, but then she makes sure to remind me that she is not perfect, jumping around like a kangaroo, all proud of herself for making a flock of geese take flight at once by barking while she walks by. I can honestly say that Cessna makes me smile all of the time.

Aspen is our pet dog, she definitely didn’t pay attention to the lessons Phoenix tried to teach her. She may not have the intelligence of Phoenix and Cessna, but she sure does have her looks. She is cute, affectionate, and extremely happy with life. We have had Aspen since she was 8 weeks old and she just turned 5 in June. We have been trying to teach her for years to move out of the way when someone walks near, but all she will do is lift a leg and look up as if to ask “is that enough room for you to get by?” Her breeder told us to teach her all we could before the age of 6 months and we made sure to work hard on the basic obedience commands, she learned “sit” within hours of arriving. Maybe it was just laziness, but she would sit and look up at us anytime we said something so we just assumed she knew what we wanted. After she turned 6 months it was like the learning part of her brain turned off, it took her to the age of about 2 ½ to learn to swim and to the age of about 3 to learn the game of fetch. Phoenix has tried to teach her how to leash guide, but she just can’t seem to get the concept, Cessna learned in only two short lessons.

And finally we have Aiden. Aiden came to us at 10 weeks of age and has done nothing but absorb skills and mostly positive behaviours from Cessna and Phoenix. He just turned 8 months on Saturday and already he is showing signs of being mature and responsible. Unlike most puppies his age, Aiden is content to sit by my feet and watch the world go by. He loves to learn new things and devotes most of his attention to whoever has hold of his leash. But, just as the others aren’t, Aiden is not perfect. He has an overwhelming love for lotion, attacking whoever put some on with kiss after kiss until they get annoyed. He loves going places and just can’t seem to understand the concept of having a loose leash, even the halti doesn’t seem to make a difference. He is not a strong puller, but still there is tension on the leash.

As you can see none of my dogs are perfect, but I love them each for their personality and quirks. Life would be boring if they adhered to the ideals of the “perfect dog”. What’s the point of having a dog when you aren’t being challenged or made to laugh each day by their antics.

So my message to all you “perfect dog” owners out there is: maybe you should step back and take a closer look at your dog because if it’s :”perfect” then it isn’t really a dog, it’s a robot and what’s the fun in that?

“There is no faith which has never yet been broken, except that of a truly faithful dog.”

Cessie’s Trip To Marineland

On Tuesday Huib, Cessna and I all packed into the car and headed off to Niagara Falls for a trip to Marineland. My friend and her group home were going so we thought we’d tag along. I was surprised when my friend called ahead and they agreed to allow Cessna to attend with us, the Toronto Zoo forbids service dogs from entering their premises. We arrived around 11:15am and waited for my friend and her group to arrive. Marineland was busy, I think it must have been group trip day or something because there were bus loads of people arriving one after another. The group arrived around noon and after a quick lunch we all headed into the park.

The first exhibit we checked out was the feeding of the sea lions. Cessna growled and made small barking noises at them, but I muffled her noises by holding her mouth closed. She was fascinated by the sea lions who were swimming around and making different noises. Next we watched the performing seals, dolphins, and walrus. Cessna was trembling with excitement, she began whining after a while of watching the show. I am surprised the people in front of us didn’t complain because she was right between them. After the show we headed over to the orca whales where we were splashed and entertained. Cessna was absolutely thrilled by them, she was so excited watching them swim and jump below her. Huib held her a couple of times so she could see better, she whined tons, wanting to swim with them. She enjoyed them so much that we went by and watched again before leaving.
Another eventful part of our day was when we entered the area where their were deer roaming free. We entered the iron gate and walked along, Cessna was absolutely amazing, she just walked along side me looking around with interest. About halfway through this part Huib looked back and noticed that all of the deer were following us, he stopped and took some pictures. When we began walking again a brave deer began to approach us, Huib scared him off several times, but he continued to come towards us so we left as quickly as we could.

Next we walked by a red deer, elk, and buffalo…I always thought that deer had smooth coats… Our final visit was to the beluga whales, they were boring! The line up to pet them was too long so we left after only a few minutes of watching. Overall we spent 4 hours at Marineland and had a great time. I don’t know if it would have been as much fun though without Cessna.

“Sing like no one’s listening; love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching; and live like it’s heaven on earth.” Mark Twain

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

10 Years Together

Wednesday was Phoenix and my 10 year anniversary together. I can’t believe it has been 10 years already since I had the trainer knock at my door and hand me Phoenix’s leash. He was the second smallest in the class, a female black lab named Chelsey was a bit smaller, but he was sure the one with the most personality. I remember how he would walk me into things when I didn’t let him do something he wanted to do, and then when I would correct him for it he would just look up with a big smile and wag his tail. He has always had a deviant personality, but he has also been the most loyal of all my dogs. I remember how attached he was to his trainer, but then by the end of the second week in class he was following me everywhere. Phoenix was my protector all through my time at the University of Guelph and is still my protector now, I guess he doesn’t feel Cessna can do as good a job. The only time he will let his guard down is when Huib is home to take over watching me. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to move away from home and attend school alone, but with Phoenix I had the feeling I could do anything because I knew no matter what happened that I would never be alone.

Phoenix, we have reached our 10th anniversary, let’s try for another one!