The Time Has Come

We got the dreaded message last Wednesday night to let us know that our little caramel bundle of silliness would be off to begin his formal training. We were so happy to be given just over a week longer to spend with him and to really get used to the idea of him leaving. He has matured so much over the past couple of months and we have really begun to see glimpses of what he can be. This knowledge has helped us to feel a little more at ease in saying good-bye. He gets so excited when we take his puppy coat down from the leash rack and has such love for people and for helping me out – even though he has never been taught or expected to do so. Even though I would love to keep him, seeing his love for the job and his passion for helping, I know that it would be selfish to make him mine and stay home as a regular dog. He is destined to become a service dog and has always showed us this side of him. Other dogs will play for hours, but Aiden will just sit back and observe or go and play, but make sure to check in every so often.

I wish Aiden the best of luck in his training and will be so proud to see him in his working jacket standing beside his new family and partner in crime. I will keep everyone posted on how he does, but for now I will close this post by sharing a poem that has been circulated for years amongst puppy raisers.

Ode to My Puppy Raiser
by Melanie S. Meenen

So when you remember me. . .

Goofy grins
Dancing eyes
Flopping ears
Spiked teeth leave
Fuzz changes to fur
Puppy breath vanishes
Hindquarters follow front
All obedience basics practiced
Socialization continues day by day
Trainers nod heads in agreement
We all knew it was coming
My time has come to go
Their grins disappear
Eyes tear quickly
Heads shake
Hearts torn
Return
Train

Know I was born to set someone free!

PETA Does It Again!

Today I was reading through some of my e-mails from a list I am on and noticed this story about PETA. After reading the article at http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/unleashed/2009/01/when-we-first-r.html, I decided that it was time to post my feelings about this organization. I have posted some of my thoughts in an earlier post, but seeing as the above refers specifically to assistance dogs, particularly “seeing eye” dogs, I thought I would post my thoughts here.

PETA seems to think they are the “know-it-alls” when it comes to how we service dog users treat our canine companions. They are constantly writing articles and posts about how some of us mistreat our dogs, how our dogs are made to work all hours of the day, and how we throw them to the curb when they become too old to work or when the various training programs decide that they are not suited for the job. Well, as a “seeing eye” dog user I can tell you that they obviously don’t have their facts straight and obviously don’t know an assistance dog user. Yes, I will admit, that there are some out there who work their dogs a little too much, don’t give their dogs enough time to just be a dog, and don’t pamper them the way they should, but these people are very few and far between.

I have two “seeing eye” dogs in my house; Phoenix who is 12 and has been retired for 3 and a half years and Cessna who is 5 and works less than she sleeps. I also have a foster puppy who will soon become an autism assistance dog and who I know will be treated with as much caring and love as he has with us.

PETA seems to think, according to the link above, that it is okay for someone to use a hearing ear dog who has been rescued from a shelter and trained, but they don’t feel it is right for a dog to be a “seeing eye” dog. I can see their point about how training programs should stop breeding dogs for “perfection” when there are tons of dogs out there in need of a good home, but I take offense to their comment about the blind not being able to care for their dogs the way that a deaf person can. Yes, we cannot see and therefore it may take us a bit longer to figure out our dogs have something like a bladder infection, but we aren’t stupid, we know when our dogs aren’t feeling well and we know that it is important to take our dogs for regular vet checks or ask our friends if they notice anything different. I cannot see well, but I always know, even before my husband who is fully sighted, that something is wrong with one of my dogs. It is usually me who asks him to check them over or asks him whether he notices anything weird about their behaviour.

I agree that there are probably people out there who cannot take care of themselves let alone take care of a dog, but I don’t think all “seeing eye” dog users out there should be placed into the same category. As with pet owners there are good service dog users and poor ones. There are people out there who should not own a pet and people out there who should not be using a service dog. But, if someone notices something fishy about a person’s use of their service dog then they should not hesitate to call the appropriate authorities for assistance, but for those of us who are doing nothing wrong I think people like PETA should just back off and let us keep living the way we want. We aren’t doing anything wrong and we aren’t causing our dogs any harm – contrary to many people’s belief our dogs actually enjoy what they do and would be bored just staying home.

Take what you want from reading my comments, but before judging me think about where your dog is while you are away. Is he or she with you? Or is he or she at home alone?

Santa Paws Has Come & Gone


Our house was full of excitement on Christmas morning, not with the excited screaming of children, but with the happy curiosity of five dogs waiting patiently to see what was in their stockings. Over the past month Huib and I have done a lot of shopping for them all, filling their stockings with toys, treats and other things we knew they would enjoy. With this being our first and only Christmas with Aiden we made sure to spoil him and to make it a memorable day for us all.

We got each dog to lie on a red blanket with their full stocking in front of them for a picture and then emptied it in front of them for another. Each dog was very interested in what their stocking contained and each dog found at least one thing inside that they wanted to check out immediately.

Aiden’s stocking contained: 2 stuffed toys that squeak (a person wearing a santa hat that said naughty on one side & nice on the other; an organge monkey with a santa hat), 3 ginger snap cookies, a bone filled with beef rollover, and a new Frisbee for the summer. He was of course interested in the treats, but after having one he took the orange moneky and ran down the hall squeaking it as he went.

Cessna’s stocking contained: a naughty or nice person (same as Aiden), a small orca whale that she can play with in the water, a treat dispenser called a chill pill, a small football, 2 cinnamon bun cookies, a package of snausages, and a stuffed frog that squeaks and has rope arms and legs. She was most interested in the cinnamon bun cookie and ran off to the bedroom to eat one when she was done.

Phoenix’s stocking wasn’t as full as the others, but he was given a new bed for Christmas and absolutely loves stealing the toys from the other dogs so we weren’t as concerned. This year his stocking contained a new treat ball (he now has 4 different ones) and a stuffed turtle that squeaks and wears a santa hat. Of course being his usual food motivated self he was eager to have us fill his ball and was off pushing it up and down the hallway with the others not far behind.

Libertie’s stocking contained: a stuffed bear wearing a santa hat, 3 ginger snap cookies, a brown leather collar, a rope toy, a squeaky tennis ball, and a bone filled with turkey rollover. She quickly ate a ginger snap cookie and then took her teddy to show her brother. Sadly teddy lost his nose within only five minutes, but she still loves to play with him just as much.

Aspen’s stocking contained: a brown leather collar, a knuckle bone, a rubber toy called a Little Devil that you can put treats into, a blue stuffed penguin that squeaks and wears a santa hat, a stuffed duck that also squeaks, and 3 ginger snap cookies. She swallowed 2 of the ginger snaps whole and then went off with her Little Devil.

All in all our dogs were spoiled. Some were given a little more than others, but in the end it all seems to even itself out as they all share and all get a variety of things throughout the year. Just looking at the money I spend each year on my dogs for Christmas makes me wonder what I will be like when I have children to spoil as well.

First Birthday Already!


Today is Aiden and Libertie’s 1st birthday, where did the time go? I remember when we got little wrinkly faced Aiden at 10 weeks of age and now looking at him I wonder where those days went. He has grown up to be such a handsome young dog, with such a patient and loving personality. With this milestone though comes the knowledge that soon he will go for training and we will no longer wake up to his nose and tongue in our faces – eager to get the day started. He is so much like my old boy Phoenix that it makes me sad every day to think about his upcoming departure from our home.

Libertie has now been with us for a month and a couple of weeks. She has learned so much and has pretty much settled into the routine of living in our home. She has mastered: sit, down, come, and is wonderful about waiting for the “ok” command before going to eat her meals. She has learned to take treats gently and is well on her way to learning how to stay and settle down (with the use of a tie down or crate, but soon she will no longer need these either).

I am not sure why our personalities seem to clash, but I find myself often wondering whether she really likes being here. I will give her a command and she will keep walking and when I make her obey she will stare at me with her sad eyes because I guess in her mind I am a mean person not allowing her to do what she desires. When her sister Amber was with us for a short time she would often give me that same look. I wish I could allow her to do what she wants, but I also cannot stand having a dog who ignores authority. Maybe in a little while she will begin to understand that I am not being cruel, but only trying to teach her what I know will help her become the dog I know she can be. My sister and her seem to have a wonderful bond with one another, maybe it is because Brandi does not force her to obey all of the time, but seeing this relationship helps me to see that she will have a great home for life if she does not stay with us.

Aiden and Libby had a great day playing with their buddies and with their new presents. Aiden absolutely loves his stuffed monkey with rope arms and legs that squeaks and Libby loves her new cow hoof filled with rollover. Soon they will have even more new toys to play with as Christmas is not far away.

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.