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.

How has Your dog Motivated You?

Welcome to the new site.

With all of the unknowns surrounding Blogger’s possible changes and accessibility concerns, I decided to go outside of my comfort zone, and create my own site.

I hope everyone enjoys our new internet home.

Now for the real purpose of this post.

A few weeks ago on Twitter I saw this question “How has your dog motivated you?”, and thought it was the perfect topic for my first entry on our new site.

As everyone knows, from reading previous entries, my dogs are a huge part of my life.

They go almost everywhere with us, and they provide us with hours of entertainment.

Thinking back to the days when I didn’t have a dog, I can honestly say, life was pretty regular and lacking in the excitement category.

If I wanted to spend the weekend in bed watching movies…then that is what I did.

If I wanted to drop everything and go out with friends…then that is what I did.

Before getting a dog, I never had to think about someone else’s feelings or needs, I just did what I wanted to do.

Now, things are different.

If I want to spend the day in bed, watching movies, I have to take breaks between scenes to take out the dogs…check that there is water…and make sure everyone is fed.

If I want to go out with friends at the last minute…I have to find out where we are going…whether they will allow dogs…and whether it is even advisable that I bring them along.

If I choose to leave my dogs at home, I have to make sure someone is able to come check on them if i am going to be away for longer than a few hours, and I can’t just decide to stay out for the weekend.

Yes, having dogs has made life a little less spontaneous and I can’t be as lazy, but having dogs has also made life more interesting.

For example, if it weren’t for Canyon, I wouldn’t be learning about the various dog sports, and how to teach them to him..

I wouldn’t be stepping outside of my comfort zone to find others with similar interests, willing to help me learn.

I also wouldn’t be spending long weekends away, in cities and towns I have never heard of, in crowded conference centres, waiting for our turn to strut our stuff alongside other people and their dogs.

Having Canyon has not only made my life more interesting, but has also motivated me to get out and learn new things, while meeting new people.

I could go on and on, giving examples of how each of my dogs have individually motivated me, but I think I’ll leave that for future posts.

In the meantime, please take some time and tell me in the comments, how your dog has motivated you.

A new Semester

On Monday, I started another online course through the University of Guelph. There weren’t too many options for winter semester, so I chose Business & Consumer Law, through the Department of Marketing and Commerce Studies.

From reading the course outline, it looks as though this course will be a little tougher than I had hoped. In addition to my online participation, there will be an assignment, a midterm and final examination. I’m not too worried about the online participation or assignment portions of the course, but am not too excited about the midterm or final because both will be multiple choice.

I’m hoping that as long as I study hard, that maybe I can defy the odds and for once, actually do well on a multiple choice exam.

Please wish me luck!

Independent Woman

I’ve never taken part in the Disability Blog Carnival, but after reading this round’s topic, I was inspired.

I lost my sight in the summer of 1993. I had just finished grade 8 and was excited to begin grade 9 at a new school. It was a total shock. My parents weren’t sure where to turn. I spent my summer indoors, trying to adapt to a life without 20/20 vision.

September arrived and students returned to school. My mom didn’t know what to do with me. She kept me home the first day, and called our region’s Board of Education. She talked to a woman in charge of organizing special services and was relieved to learn that there was a department of sorts designed to help visually impaired and blind students.

That afternoon, I met a woman who would forever change my life.

Stephanie Sommer arrived around noon. She sat with my mom and I, at the kitchen table and asked questions. She had come to assess whether I truly required her assistance. The phone rang at some point during our meeting and after watching me reach past the phone, she took my hand and placed it onto the receiver with a smile.

After mom was finished with the call, Stephanie told us she would start working with me the following day.

Over the next five years, Stephanie would teach me not only the usual lessons of Braille and getting around safely with a cane, but she would inspire me to be an independent woman.

Stephanie never once treated me like I had a disability.

She expected me to act appropriately and study just as hard as every other student in my high school.

She always expected me to give eye contact.

She wouldn’t help me unless I said please or thank you.

And if I got frustrated and attempted to give up, she’d walk away and wait for me to get over it.

Stephanie and I developed more than just a student-teacher bond, we became friends. She told me about her own vision problems and told me how she embarked on an educational journey that led her to working with students like me.

I remember the feeling of comfort that would come over me each time I smelled her perfume, and the smile that would sprout on my face, no matter how bad the day, when I heard her voice. Stephanie was my navigator, guiding me through a world I now found scary and full of unknowns.

She taught me how to read Braille and how to fully utilize the vision I still had.

She showed me how to travel safely throughout my community with a cane, and then when I told her I wanted to apply for a guide dog, she challenged me to first move outside of my comfort zone. I learned how to take the bus to a neighbouring town to attend movies and shop alone in their mall. Then, she gave me the biggest test of all, she asked me to learn how to take the bus to Toronto and then learn to take the subway to the largest mall of all (at the time) – the Eatons Centre.

Once I entered my final year of high school, Stephanie was there to help me reach my goal of attending university. She read through university brochures and program descriptions. Then she helped me fill out application, after application because I couldn’t decide on which one to attend. She was there when I received each of my letters of acceptance and then took it upon herself to arrange campus tours so that I could better decide upon the school for me.

After I began university, Stephanie and I talked a couple times a year, but after she attended my wedding in 2006, we sadly lost touch.

I still think about the lessons she taught me. She inspired me how to be the woman I am today, because when no one else did, she believed I could be better.

Training With The Rogue Puppy

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

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

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

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

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

Here is where Rogue is with Level 1:

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

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

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

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

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

Achieving The Confidence

As mentioned in this post, the topic for this round of the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is “achievement”. I have been racking my brain for weeks, trying to figure out what to write about.

I finally came up with the perfect idea.

I’ll write about how I achieved the confidence to begin raising and training my future guide dog.

Are you ready?

Here we go…

On Friday, May 27th, 2005, I was matched with a spunky female black lab named Cessna. From the start, we struggled. She had so much spirit and an endless amount of energy. When she wanted to go, there was really no stopping her. When I wanted to just chill out, she couldn’t figure out what she was supposed to be doing. Cessna’s work was always 100%, but she pulled like a steam roller, and jumped around like a kangaroo when she saw other dogs and small critters. I tried using all of the training methods I had been taught while in class, but our progress was slow and at times seemed to move backwards. To add to our troubles, Cessna had some unknown fears and emotional trauma, which would leave me scratching my head, wondering what I could have possibly done to cause such a reaction.

Fast-forward almost three years.

On Saturday, March 1st, 2008, the Director of Autism Dog Services, brought a 10 week old caramel colour lab to our home. With all of the struggles and challenges I had overcome with Cessna, I felt we could use our knowledge to raise a puppy for a young child with autism. Aiden was a big goof. He had an amazing personality and loved to please everyone. We taught him so much within such a short amount of time. People used to stop and watch us in malls, smiling at the four month old puppy, performing his favourite tricks (roll over, give five and show your belly). By the time Aiden was approaching 7 months of age, we started to search for more direction and training ideas for new skills. This is when I began my training sessions with Dogs In The Park.
Aiden and I participated in the weekly “stay classes”, while Cessna joined me for “Levels”. Aiden had the most reliable “stays” of all his fellow ADS trainees, and I learned how to teach him complex skills and tricks, such as some of Cessna’s more basic guiding commands. By the time aiden was recalled for formal training, on Friday, February 6th, 2009, he was able to confidently leash guide me, throughout our neighbourhood and within quiet stores to find Huib. It was at this point, when the Director of Autism Dog Services, suggested that I think about raising and training Cessna’s successor.

This thought sat in the back of my mind for over a year and a half.

On Saturday, February 14th, 2009, Huib and I went to a small kennel in St. Agatha, Ontario, to pick up our second ADS foster puppy, Reece. Cessna and I had been participating in the weekly Levels classes for almost 7 months at this point. Our relationship was flourishing, and I had learned new ways of working with her, that did not include leash corrections or any other forceful methods. We began our raising adventures with Reece, trying to closely follow the new training methods I’d learned through my time with Sue Alexander. We used his lunchtime meals for training and taught him everything using the clicker and praise. Reece wasn’t as quick as Aiden in the learning department, but his trainer was delighted with his weekly progress. With aiden we found it next to impossible to teach him loose leash walking, so with Reece, we worked on leash walking from day one. By the time Reece was six months old, he was able to walk on a loose leash with anyone. Unfortunately, around this time he began to develop a limp which seemed to be coming from his left front elbow. It took the program staff five months to make the decision to wash him out.

On Friday, December 18th, 2009, Huib and I picked up a 6 month old male golden retriever from a Mennonite farm in Chesley, Ontario. Canyon (formerly Sparky) had absolutely no name recognition or manners. He mouthed, jumped up on everything, relieved indoors and would pace when he was nervous. We spent the first week teaching him his name and what the clicker meant. We then moved on to teaching him to sit through “capturing”. We knew he loved going outside, so would wait for him to sit before clicking and opening the door as his reward. Once he was sitting reliably, we named the behaviour and started to use it at other times, like before meals and when he’d go to jump up onto something or someone. Through using solely the clicker and treats/praise, we found our relationship with Canyon grew quickly, and his fears subsided easily. Over the next year and a bit, I taught Canyon all of his basic obedience commands without the use of anything other than the clicker and treats. I also continued to work on training with Cessna, teaching her to do various tasks at a distance and expanding her use of the “touch” cue.

During the winter of 2010 and 2011, I began working with a trainer to learn more skills and to try and expand my training knowledge. Through these lessons, I learned how to teach Canyon to turn right and left with a simple gesture, and how to better teach him to walk on a loose leash. Training an older dog, compared to a young puppy, can be a bit more of a challenge. The Border Collie Lady taught me how to do things differently in order to move past some of the obstacles we’d encountered.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to see what Canyon had truly learned through our lessons with the Border Collie Lady. He walked calmly and confidently at my side through the St. Jacob’s Market while Cessna guided us around people and vendor tables. It was such an awesome feeling to be able to smoothly walk through the market with two dogs at my side. He even surprised me at one point when he showed a desire to try some fire escape-like stairs that Huib was showing Rogue and my friend Karen was coaxing her 13 month old foster puppy up. I handed the leash over to Huib and Canyon walked up and down the stairs as if he’d done them a million times.

In February of this year, I learned that Cessna had begun to develop cataracts in both eyes. It was at this point, when I decided to seriously look into raising and training her successor. I researched breeds, looking at the golden retriever, flat-coated retriever and Labrador retriever. After deciding on the lab, I started researching breeders in Ontario. I e-mailed close to 10 different ones, before settling on Red Labrador Retrievers, a small kennel in Maidstone, Ontario.

We picked up our 11.8lbs, female butterscotch colour lab on Friday, June 10th, 2011.

I’m honestly not sure I would have made such a decision if I had not been matched with my little black firecracker. Through my struggles with her, and experiences with Aiden, Reece and Canyon, I’ve learned tons and developed self-confidence.

I’m hoping Cessna will never stop challenging me to become a better person, and that she will help me teach Rogue how to walk in her shoes.

Is It Me?

I’m frustrated.

I’m discouraged.

And, I’m not sure how to make things better.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been trying to set up a training session with the Border Collie Lady. We haven’t had a chance to continue our agility lessons since the end of May because of various scheduling issues. She competes in agility and conformation with her dogs, so a lot of her weekends were full. Then when Phoenix got sick, I really didn’t want to be away from him more than necessary. Over the past month though, I’ve been trying to set up a couple of sessions with her, but keep getting this excuse and that for why she cannot get together.

I understand that she is probably busy, but I also feel as though she is not truly interested in helping me. During our training sessions, I got the impression that she didn’t feel as though I could truly succeed in agility with limited sight, but I thought I could prove her wrong with time. I really enjoyed our sessions and felt as though she had tons to teach me, if I could only get past her preconceived notions regarding my abilities.

As far as I know, she has a sister who is blind, so I thought it would only take a bit of effort to win her over.

Well….

I’m now feeling as though I was sadly mistaken.

I don’t think she truly wants to help me. And I’m feeling discouraged.

I really, really want to compete in rally obedience and agility with Canyon, Cessna and Rogue, but I feel as though my skills are somewhat limited. I feel as though I need someone to watch me in action with each of them, and offer suggestions and advice regarding the areas we are struggling. I know I can succeed in these dog sports, but am really not sure I can do it without guidance. I find it helpful to have someone providing training structure and suggesting areas for improvement and new ways of overcoming challenges, but there really is no one else in our area except for the Border Collie Lady and a training program which seems to constantly cancel group classes they advertise on the radio.

After my experiences with the Border Collie Lady and previously Sue Alexander, I’m really beginning to wonder if I’m just too much work. I know Sue didn’t ask me to leave her program because of disability related concerns, but having negative experiences with two dog training programs, has really done a number on my self-confidence.

Is it me?

Are there things I need to change about myself?

Is it them?

Am I expecting too much of other people?

Should I just avoid dog training programs all together, and just educate myself?

These are things I need to consider, because the status quo is not working. If I want to achieve my dreams of competing, then I’m going to have to figure out where the problems lie. And, if it is me, then I need to figure out how to stop and change whatever I’m doing to scare off the people who can help.

Or, figure out a way to teach myself the things I need to know.

Any thoughts? Or words of wisdom?

Coincidental Timing

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

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

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

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

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

Please let’s hope I’m wrong.

Cessna’s Raisers

Over the past six months or so, I’ve been debating whether it’s worth continuing to keep in touch with Cessna’s raisers.

During the first four to five years of being a team, her raisers e-mailed regularly and when I wrote, would ask numerous questions about how she was doing.

Over the past year or so though, this has stopped.

About six months ago, I wrote them to give an update since we had not heard anything in a while. And to let them know Cessna had been diagnosed with tiny cataracts in both eyes. I thought they would have written back worried, wondering whether she would be able to continue working. Instead, I got a message which asked questions about other things I’d told them, and that said “Oh, that would not be good to have a blind guide dog”. They did not refer to Cessna by name. They did not ask what the veterinarian had said about the cataracts. They did not even ask about how she was enjoying winter or how she was doing otherwise.

This message had me concerned and sort of put off in regards to wanting any further communication.

I waited four to five months, to see if they wood write…they didn’t.

So, a day or so ago, I wrote with another update and to let them know Phoenix had passed away. I thought I would try giving them another chance to show me they still cared and even tried to put things into the message that would have them ask further questions.

Well, I got a message back and again there was nothing said or asked about Cessna – I was crushed.

I’m not sure if I’m just being silly, but I really am not sure I want to write them anymore.

Maybe it’s just an accidental oversight on their part.

Maybe they’re so busy with her foster mom’s adult daughter that they’ve had to put other interests on the back burner.

Or maybe Cessna just isn’t as important to them anymore.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that this lack of caring is bothering me.

I’m honestly stuck. I don’t know if I should continue writing and just give them the benefit of the doubt. Or if I should just leave things alone and see how long it takes for them to take the initiative to write.

Back To School

In June, I talked about wanting to return to school. I had decided to register as a non-degree student, and am hoping to take a course or two each semester between now and the fall of 2013. I’m tired of doing nothing, other than training with my dogs, reading books and cleaning the house. I know Huib does not hold my inability to get a job against me, but I still feel as though I’m wasting my life, sitting around.

Yesterday was the start of course selection, so Huib logged into my student profile, and registered me for this course.

When I was a student at the University of Guelph from 1999 to 2004, I majored in Criminal Justice & Public Policy, which primarily meant I took courses from the sociology and political sciences departments. I really enjoyed the political sciences, so focused mainly in this area when I had a choice, so there are actually very few courses left for me to take now that I am re-entering student life.

I was attracted by this new course, Governing Criminal Justice, because not only will it focus on areas that interest me, but it is also primarily writing based, and there is no final examination. I haven’t done a final exam in over four years, so I thought it would be best to start off taking a course that was writing based, since this is something I’m quite good at. I am not a creative writer, but give me a topic to research and I have no issues producing a paper that might just knock your socks off.

I’m not sure what the future holds in terms of my ability to find employment, but in the meantime I think I’ll try and better my educational background, so that I might be able to complete a masters when we move back to Southwestern Ontario.