Progress and Struggles

On Thursday evening we had another obedience class.

Class started with me working in the ring alone. Susie is trying to help me become more confident with the exercises. She is hoping that by practicing each week, it will become less stressful and require very little thought to complete. I do different heeling patterns, walking forward, stopping and turning in various directions. Susie thinks I am looking less uncomfortable each week.

Some dogs, like Rogue, cue off their human’s body language, so if the human knows what they are doing, it’ll be easier to avoid cuing the dog to do the wrong behaviours.

When I was finished, I called Arizona into the ring and we got to work.

Heeling is still an issue, but we have progressed in other areas. Ari did several sit-stays ranging from 15 to 30 seconds long. She stayed in place until I recalled her, and then she stayed until I returned and released her. I also used ‘touch’ to keep her attention off Susie and Huib as they made “beep, beep…” sounds, so I knew where the posts were for the figure eight.

We will get there.

Rogue and Huib were awesome!! Huib has really worked on keeping Rogue’s attention on him, and it has made a huge difference!! He needs to continue working on having Rogue stay until he returns – she gets up as soon as he comes close – but it’ll come. She just needs to learn that when we cue a ‘stay,’ she’s supposed to remain in position, but if we’re just walking around the house, she needs to MOVE.

To add a bit of challenge to our work, Susie suggested we both come into the ring. She had us go to opposite ends of the room and asked us to follow her instructions. Both girls were distracted by the other team. Rogue was distracted by me and Ari, while Arizona was distracted by Huib and Rogue.

We also did a ‘group’ sit-stay. Both girls rocked it!!

Susie says we will do this each week to give the girls some high distraction work. No one is more distracting than your best buddy and your other human.

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Saturday morning was Cessna’s annual vet check. I was worried about the large lump under Cessna’s front left leg. It has grown since last year’s appointment, so I thought Bianca might say we needed to have it removed. We were pleasantly surprised to find out she was not really worried, but said we would continue watching it. I am glad because she’s almost 13.5, so I don’t know if it would be good to do surgery, and I don’t think I could decide against it. Cessna is really happy, pretty healthy, and appears to have a lot of life left in her.

Bianca asked a lot of questions about what we are feeding Cessna and what supplements she is getting. She also asked about any illness or concerns. Cessna has lost a whole kilogram since last year, so Bianca wants us to feed her more and to bring in a urine sample. She didn’t have any concerns when she did the physical exam, but did voice her distress regarding Cessna’s coat condition. I told her it hasn’t changed in the past year or so, even though we have tried a number of different options. We will not be vaccinating Cessna anymore, but Bianca still wanted to run Parvo and Distemper titres, along with a geriatric blood panel and a test for Heartworm and tick-borne diseases. The results from the tests should come back in about a week.

After paying, we took Cessna back to the vehicle, and then brought each of the others in to be weighed. All three youngsters need to lose about four pounds!!

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In the afternoon, we had tracking with Laura.

Canyon was all over the place for most of his track. He found both articles and did some pretty good work the last 10 metres or so. I think it is just going to take time.

Once he gets the idea, he’s going to be great!!

Arizona was amazing!! She found all of her articles, did some surface changes (crossing over sidewalks), and barely overshot corners. Unlike Rogue, Ari only seems to go a foot or two past her corners before she realizes she has lost scent.

She stopped a couple of times to think, but Laura said that’s normal, so not to worry and not to rush her.

Rogue started off really well, but I think having to relieve herself caused some focus issues. She rarely goes to the washroom when not at home, but we fed them after Cessna’s appointment, so I think her schedule was off.

Rogue missed her first two articles, but found the others. She cut corners in several spots, so I think that might have been why she ended up on the opposite side of the sidewalk from her track at one point.

Rogue has had a really good couple of months for tracking, so it was about time for some mistakes.

I’m thinking about entering her into an urban test at the end of April, so hopefully we’ve got our struggles done for a bit.

Until next time 🙂

Happy 12th Birthday!!

Happy 12th Birthday Cessna!!

I say it every year, but I really do mean it, time sure flies. Even though Cessna has been with me for 10 and a half years, I feel like we just became partners. Maybe it’s because once we gelled at 18 months together, we really never became separate.

Cessna has been a wonderful partner and friend. She may not be as bonded to me as Phoenix or Rogue was/is, but she was still an amazing worker and is a great friend.

We have sure had some interesting adventures together, but I still think we have more to look forward to, so cheers to another few years together my spunky little squirrel chaser!

It’s Official!!!

even though Cessna has been retired for almost a year, I didn’t call her school to let them know – I honestly didn’t see the point since we hadn’t heard from them in years.

I got a call a couple of weeks ago to “check in.” It may have been a call to let me know that it was time to consider retiring Cessna since she’ll be 12 at the end of October.

I personally think someone finally mentioned Rogue to a trainer. I don’t mind though.

The trainer asked how we are doing. I told her I had retired her back in October, but that I hadn’t called because I assumed it didn’t matter since I was planning on keeping her.

She said that they wanted to update my file, so were calling to make sure things were still up to date. I gave her my new address.

She said that they would send me Cessna’s adoption papers to make it “official.”

The papers arrived last week. In addition to saying that by adopting her I was no longer able to work her, it said that I am also responsible for paying for vet bills – which is funny because I have been paying the bills since I got her.

I am sitting at a table holding a pen above a piece of paper with writing on it. Arizona has her paws up and she's looking over my left arm at the paper. I am wearing a navy blue hooded sweatshirt with a grey bear paw on the front.

Now that I have signed the papers, with Arizona’s help, I guess Cessna is officially mine.

I hope we have several more years of adventures ahead of us.

They’ll no longer be working adventures, but they’ll be adventures nonetheless.

Won’t That Affect Her Work?

Won’t that affect her guide work?

This is a question I hear constantly when I tell other service dog handlers about the various activities I choose to do with Rogue.

No, it doesn’t affect her ability to guide.

When you have a good working relationship, like Rogue and I do, you can choose to do almost anything together.

Rogue knows the difference.

She knows that when her guide harness is on, or even if it is off and she’s just hanging out in my office at school, that she needs to be professional. She knows she can’t be sniffing everything, visiting everyone, or chasing small critters that cross our path.

Rogue knows that when her tracking harness is on that her job is to “find” the track and follow it to the “article.” She knows that she doesn’t need to be paying attention to anything else. She knows that it isn’t her job to keep me safe. It’s her job to find the “article” for me.

Rogue knows that when we are at a conformation show and she’s wearing a show leash and collar that it isn’t time to guide; it’s time to walk nicely beside Huib. She knows that when they stop along side other dogs in the ring, it isn’t time to greet them or to sniff around. Rogue knows it’s time to “stack” and let the judge check her out. She knows that Huib will let her know what is expected and that he’ll remind her if she forgets.

When we are at field training and she’s wearing just her martingale and leash, Rogue knows it is time to retrieve. She knows that it’s okay to run away from me and get the duck (bumper with wings for now), and bring it back to me. Rogue knows it’s not time to sniff for articles or show me obstacles, it’s time to “mark” (or look forward and see where the duck is dropping from) and then “fetch” it and bring it back.

It’s true that dogs are not good at generalizing, but Rogue and I have been working together since she was 8 weeks of age. We’ve practiced things in a variety of environments and we’ve learned what’s appropriate in each situation.

Rogue knows that I will let her know if she’s made the wrong choice. And, I know that she’ll turn to me for help if she needs help figuring out what is expected.

so, the answer is no, conformation, tracking and field work will not affect Rogue’s work.

And, if we decide to try something else it won’t affect her work either.

This is why I love owner-training. I can choose to participate in any dog sport I want with Rogue. With Cessna, this was not the case. I wanted to try out rally obedience, but her school said no.

For Rogue and I, the sky is the limit!!

***This post is not directed at anyone. The questions I’ve been getting just got me thinking that it was time to try and educate others. I am thankful for all of the questions.***

Summer Fun

It was a beautiful day, so Huib and I decided to take the dogs for a swim at the old Guelph penitentiary grounds.

Rogue standing in the water with a smile

With this smile, can you believe Rogue used to be the dog who wouldn’t even put a toe into a puddle?

Face shot of Cessna standing in the water smiling

Cessna hasn’t had a chance to swim this summer, so this outing was a pretty special one for her. She swam for probably 45 minutes before stopping for a rest.

Canyon, Rogue & Arizona swimming out to retrieve an orange bumper

Canyon often gets hot spots after swimming, so he hasn’t been in the water for probably 2 or more years. We thought we’d try it out and see what happened now that he really isn’t showing as often. He had a blast chasing the bumper and trying to keep it away from everyone.

Arizona spent a lot of the time on the shore waiting for the others to come back before she walked out to steal the bumper away. She’s such a lazy girl!

I’m not sure how Canyon’s skin will react to the water, but I definitely know the girls will be swimming again.

Saratoga Springs: Conference Time

The dinner gathering on Tuesday night was a wash. The organizers really didn’t offer any food, just a few appetizers with drinks. People seemed to know one another, so it was a bit awkward for Huib and I. We stayed for a couple of drinks and then left to order pizza in our hotel room with Rogue and Canyon.

Brooke and Rogue standing in front of a metal statue. The statue is a memorial for people lost in the 9/11 attacks. Brooke is wearing a fancy white tank top that has silver trim with blue jeans, a white hat, black Oakley sunglasses and black leather sandals. Rogue is wearing her red guide harness.

Wednesday morning we had a bit of breakfast and then I went to the keynote by John Bradshaw, while Huib returned to the room to watch Dirty Jobs with Canyon.

The keynote was good. Bradshaw talked about anthropomorphism and how it can be both good and bad. I didn’t really agree with his belief that dogs lack higher levels of intelligence and the ability to feel some of the complex emotions, but overall I really enjoyed his talk. After he had finished, the floor was opened for questions. The most interesting question asked was by a woman who used to be a nurse in a hospice. She wanted to know how Bradshaw can explain the reaction dogs have to dying patients if he believes they do not possess higher levels of intelligence and feeling. I totally see what she was saying and I didn’t feel Bradshaw answered her question. I wish I had taken good notes, so I could actually explain what he was saying and how her question related, but of course I am a horrible notetaker.

When the keynote was over, Huib came back to go with Rogue and I into the ball room where the posters were set up. The people who had posters were asked to stay by their poster for an hour each day of the conference to answer any questions.

I had a number of people come by. I’m not really sure why, but people really seemed interested in my project. I had a couple of people comment that my poster had too much writing, but otherwise I had a lot of compliments and questions regarding my research findings. Even though I am still in the beginning stages of my project, I was able to answer most questions and I don’t really think anyone noticed that I haven’t really started my research, lol!

The morning sessions weren’t overly interesting to me, but I did like the presentation on veterans and service dogs. The research seemed to tie in well with the research paper my thesis supervisor wrote last year for Veterans Affairs on the benefit of service dogs for veterans.

Lunch was good, not only did I get some pizza, but they also had some good salads.

In the afternoon there were several different presentations relating to service dogs. A woman from the UK did a research project looking at the psychological benefits of guide dogs to their blind handlers. It was interesting to listen to her findings because one of the conclusions I made in my short literature review was that there is a lot of research looking at the benefits of therapy dogs and companion dogs, but no real studies looking at the psychological benefits of service dogs. There was also an interesting study looking at the activity level of blind people with service dogs compared to blind people without dogs. She found that guide dog users tend to be more active than blind individuals without a dog.

Canyon lying in front of a black horse statue that is decorated in beverage containers.

I can’t really remember what the second afternoon session was about, so it probably wasn’t overly interesting.

Dinner was at a local restaurant. It was pretty fancy stuff. We had steak with mashed potatoes and grilled veggies. They also served some good salad and tasty bread. We could have also had dessert, but we wanted to get back to Canyon and we both weren’t overly hungry anymore, so we passed on the desserts.

On the final day of the conference we had to leave the room by noon, so I only went to the morning sessions. There was a keynote on zoos that was quite interesting. Did you know that giraffes are quickly nearing endangered species status? Did you know that there is no real value in conserving the Giant Panda? I didn’t know either.

There were a variety of presentations in the morning session. There was an interesting presentation by Hal Herzog, on the problems with studies looking at the value of animal-assisted therapies. He argues that most studies do not actually prove anything because often they are too small sample-wise and lack controls.

The next couple presentations were on activity dog programs at a couple of different universities and a rehabilitation centre in Switzerland. I really liked the prevention by Sandra Barker, evaluating the program her university runs. Not only do they have dogs, but they also have cats, rabbits and a chicken. Could you imagine? A therapy chicken?

Other than finding it hard to stay in a down during the afternoon sessions on Wednesday, Rogue did quite well. I got a lot of compliments on her work and about how quiet she is. I do need to work on her staying in a down for longer periods of time, but in her defence, Wednesday was a pretty long day and she did well until the last few presentations.

Once Huib and Canyon had loaded the car, Huib came to get Rogue and I. We then set off to visit Cyndy and Uschi from the blog, Gentle Wit.

It was a pretty short visit, but a good one. Such really liked playing with Canyon. We spent most of the time just hanging out at their house, letting Uschi and Canyon play with the tennis balls Cyndy brought out and spread around the living room. Rogue isn’t an overly social dog with other dogs, so she spent most of the visit hiding on the couch or trying to walk along the back of the couch to see where Huib had gone. Other than watching the dogs play and talking, we went to pick up food at the Cheesecake Factory and had breakfast at a yummy little diner before leaving for home.

I have been sending packages to Cyndy’s place for months, so we also picked a lot of stuff up during our visit. We got Swamp Cooler vests for the goldens from Ruffwear, a bright pink front attach harness and pacific blue front attach harness from Ruffwear for Arizona and rogue, some JW chew toys for Ari, some new black leather leashes for a couple of friends and for the labs along with matching black leather martingales for Rogue and Cessna. I also finally got my new purple iPhone case and Huib got a black one for his phone. Oh, and I also got Cessna’s new supplement I’m trying out with her that is made from the shell membrane of eggs. This new supplement is supposed to be better than Glucosamine, so even though Cessna isn’t showing any arthritis yet, she is making some clicking noises when she walks up stairs, so I’m hoping this new supplement will help her out.

When we got back to my friend’s place to pick up Cessna and Arizona, Ari told Huib how much she disliked the fact that we had left her for so long. She was extremely vocal about it and held onto Huib’s arm for along time, taking him from place to place in the yard, lol! My friend said both girls were great and Ari had a good time playing with her daughter’s foster puppy, Sully. When she dropped Sully off at her daughter’s place, he didn’t even greet Kelsey, he just went over and laid on his bed, lol!

Looking Back

The topic for this round of the assistance Dog Blog Carnival is “regrets.” I chose this topic because in exactly one month it will be 17 years since I was partnered with Phoenix. For new blog readers, Phoenix was officially my second dog guide from Dog Guides Canada, but to me he was my first, and the dog who started it all.

On July 23rd, 1998, I was matched with Phoenix, a 21 month old male yellow lab. He wanted nothing to do with me at first, he just wanted to be with his trainer. Around the two week mark of class, a switch turned and he was mine forever. From that moment in time, Phoenix and I ruled the world together. Even when he retired 7 years later, he was still my constant shadow. No matter how much Huib tried to win his affection, Phoenix would have none of it. When I was home, Phoenix was stuck to me like glue.

We finished my final year of high school together. We completed five years at the University of Guelph and walked across the graduation stage side by side. Along the way Phoenix taught me about unconditional love and the value of true friendship.

It’s true, I’ve had several dogs since getting Phoenix (not all guides of course), but no matter who has passed through my life since July 23rd, Phoenix had and will always have a big piece of my heart.

You’re probably wondering how this all relates to the topic of “regrets.” Well, looking back I have many regrets.

Looking back, I wish I had known about clicker training and that I had not used the choke chain and the harsh corrections that went along with it. It’s true that I stopped using all of this a year or so after getting Cessna, but I still have regrets.

Looking back, I wish I had known about feeding a raw diet sooner. Yes, Phoenix ate raw his final eight months with me, but it took me over 12 years to finally figure out how to end his constant fight with ear infections. It’s true that I figured out his allergies by the time he was seven, but he still got painful ear infections off and on, so I have regrets.

Looking back, I wish I had known the end was near. It’s true he was just two months shy of his 15th birthday when he passed. It’s true that I was not in school or working, so I spent every hour of the day at home with the dogs. It’s true that I fed him all of his favourite human foods, such as pizza, french fries, Kraft Dinner and beef jerky, when he’d eat for me. It’s true that he progressively ate less and less, while sleeping more and more the last month of his life, so I should have known the end was near. But, I have regrets.

I wonder if he would have stayed longer if I had not gotten Rogue. I wonder if he wouldn’t have started to give up if I hadn’t left him with friends for a few days while I took Canyon, Cessna and Rogue to Rogue’s breeder’s reunion. I will probably never know the answer for certain, and he probably would have still passed away, but I have regrets.

According to dictionary.com, regret means to: “feel sorrow or remorse for an act, fault, or disappointment.”

This definition seems fitting. I feel sorrow for the training methods I chose, which caused me to act poorly towards Phoenix. I feel remorse for not acting sooner to stop his ear infections. And, I feel sorrow for possibly causing him to pass away sooner than he might have if I had not chosen to get a puppy.

It’s true that I shouldn’t feel bad for these things, but I still have regrets.

Labradorable Cessna

I’m such a bad dog mom, I haven’t had a picture of Cessna up here in a while. It’s really difficult to get good pictures of her in the summer time because her black coat reflects the sun, so we’re going to try and take more now that we can use the natural lighting of winter.

Cessna with snow on her face

Goodbye 2014

2014 is about to come to an end.

And, what a year it has been…

Here are some of the highlights:
We bought a house
Aiden came to visit for 10 days
Huib was promoted to Assistant Director of Nursing at the Village of Riverside Glen
I was accepted into the Health and Aging masters program at McMaster University
Rogue passed the Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test in May
Arizona joined our family in July
Rogue and I started graduate school in September
Canyon earned another point towards his Canadian Championship title in October
Cessna officially retired from guide work

We can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store for us.

From all of us at ruled by paws, have a very safe and happy new year!

It’s Time

Well, I guess it’s time. It’s time to make it official.

Cessna is now retired.

I had always planned to retire her by the age of 10, but she wanted to work longer, so I let her make the decision. She hasn’t wanted to come out for a while now, so if I think back to the last time she worked, I think it would be at the end of September or early October. that means she’s been retired for over 2 months now.

Can you believe that? Retired for 2 months and I just finally got around to making it official.

I haven’t told her school yet and I’m not really sure I ever will. They haven’t contacted me in years and to be honest, I could care less about them knowing.

All that really matters is she’s happy and healthy.

I had wanted to have a retirement party for Cessna, but all of our friends have been busy and many have moved away, so I think I’ll just let it go. I think I will buy her a new retirement collar and leash though…

This is really hard. It’s hard putting it into real words, finally saying to everyone that Cessna is retired. She hasn’t worked in a while, so it’s not like I haven’t known it was happening, but putting it into words makes it real.

It’s been an amazing 9 plus years of working together my little Cessnaroo, but it is time to hang up your harness for good and to start a new adventure together. You taught me so much over the years. If it weren’t for you, I’m not sure I would have ever learned about clicker training or the importance of positive reinforcement. I’m not even sure I would have thought about fostering puppies, let alone raise and train my own guide dog. You are one amazing little lab.

I will try to make your retirement years as wonderful as your working years have been.