Wyoming Trip: Goodbye Swamp Rat

Sunday morning, Roxy and Soleil had to catch a plane back to new Orleans. We woke up at 4:30am, fed, relieved and dressed the dogs before heading to Denver.

the drive was a bit icky because Cheyenne and the surrounding areas got about 3 inches of snow overnight and it was still coming down. As we got closer to Denver the snow turned to rain.

The weather made me feel more at home because snow is totally a Canadian thing…in my opinion anyway.

At the airport, we all walked Roxy and Soleil to the check-in desk, where she was met by a staff person who was able to do some sign language. Once Roxy’s luggage was handed over, we walked with her over to a spot where she was going to be meeting up with the airline person who was taking her to the plane.

After saying goodbye and giving one another hugs, Robin, bill and I left Roxy and began the snowy drive back to Cheyenne.

By the time we got back to Robin and Bill’s house, the snow was coming down heavier. We had received some text messages from Roxy while we were driving and from what she said, the plane needed to be de-iced and she didn’t get home until after 3pm.

Robin and Bill were pretty exhausted, so after having a quick lunch, I went into my room and read a bit, while they took a nap. In the evening, we had a simple dinner of leftovers from the barbecue and then settled in to watch several episodes of Duck Dynasty. I had watched the show a couple of times with Huib and Canyon’s co-breeder, Judi, but it was really funny to watch the episodes with robin and Bill because they were able to give me some insight into the background of the family and the area where they lived.

Around 10pm, Robin and Bill headed to bed and I went into my room to surf the internet.

Wyoming Trip: The Public Access Test

Today was the big day. Today was the dreaded public access test.

The public access test is a set of standards Assistance Dogs International designed for their member organizations to follow when deciding on whether a trainee should graduate.

Robin felt Rogue, Sherman and Soleil were ready for the test, so asked her friend to conduct it. Robin’s friend assesses dogs for search and rescue, as well as, evaluates dogs for the AKC’s Canine good Citizen certification.

I was SO nervous!! I totally thought Rogue and I were going to flunk.

we didn’t though… We passed with flying colours!!!

We all drove to the mall around 10:00 and waited for Robin’s friend to arrive. We then had our dogs calmly exit the vehicle and take us to the doors. Once we entered Sears, we asked our dogs to sit and then did a mini sit-stay and down-stay exercise while robin’s friend watched. We then walked through Sears and stopped in the busy mall hallway. there, we had our dogs sit and then Robin’s friend came up and pretended to greet us and our dog. Rogue was very intent on getting a treat from me as often as possible, so continually poked me in the leg with her nose, which is her ‘look’ cue or eye contact since I cannot see enough to give her true eye contact.

After Robin’s friend finished greeting us all, we did a mini recall of each dog. We had them all go into a down and then stay while we went to the very end of their leash and then after a few seconds, called them over. Rogue bounded towards me with lots of enthusiasm, lol!

We then walked through the mall to a small fabric store, where Bill proceeded to push a cart around the store while we asked our dogs to sit, lie down and guide us with him walking by. None of the dogs seemed to care.

next, we walked to the Chick-fil-A for a drink. the dogs had to lie quietly while we drank our beverages and Robin threw treats around them. Each dog ended up picking up one of the treats, but left lots of them alone completely, so it was no big deal. Rogue had a treat sitting around her belly area, but left it alone. She ate the one that ended up underneath her though. Bill took a short video of this, so I am hoping I can post a link to it sometime soon.

Once everyone was done their beverage, we proceeded to walk back through Sears to the vehicle, where Robin’s friend watched us all re-load the dogs. the only test we didn’t do was the behaving around dogs because we had each other’s dog to work around and Robin’s friend had met up with us the evening before with her almost 2 year old Bloodhound, so knew how all of the dogs would react.

It was SO neat to see how well each of the dogs performed the tasks. I was surprised at how serious each of them were about their work.

In the afternoon Robin’s son, daughter-in-law and friends came over for a barbecue. It was raining though, so it was more of an indoor one.

I can be a bit shy at times, so I wasn’t really sure how it would be, but I ended up having a blast. Roxy and I talked a lot and practiced some finger spelling and she taught me some new signs. We also entertained Robin’s company by commenting on things and telling hilarious stories.

When we were getting our food, for example, we didn’t really intend to do it, but we kept referring to items on the counter in sexual terms. to give you an example, I asked Roxy if she could tell me what kinds of condoms there were, instead of asking about the condiments. Then I asked her to pass me a bun and rare meat (burger) because I didn’t like it hard and dry, lol! I really didn’t mean for things to sound so bad, but it just kept coming out and Robin’s son and daughter-in-law were laughing.

After Robin’s company had gone home, it was time for roxy to pack because she needed to catch her plane back to New orleans the following morning.

I’m here for 5 more days, so it will be so strange not having Roxy and the Sunshine Dog around.

Wyoming Trip: Blind Man’s Chicken

Friday was a good day.

Soleil came down and woke me up around 6:30 by jumping on the bed and giving me tons of kisses. It is so funny to see how excited she is about life.

after breakfast we got ready to do some solo work.

Robin explained the route and then I offered to go first. We were going to set off at 5 minute intervals, so the dogs would have a chance to work without help.

Rogue and I did really well. we found our curbs, we made our turns when they came and we figured out any confusing spots. at the second crossing, we accidentally went up someone’s driveway instead of the sidewalk, so once I felt the brick wall in front of me, I asked Rogue to turn around and then we made our way back to the curb, so we could try again. The next area we had some trouble was when we walked down a road that has a number of really defined driveways, it felt as though we were stopping at curbs each time we crossed one, so when we stopped at the first down-curb of the driveway, I was confused, so I had Rogue turn around and then we walked back to the last crossing to figure out what went wrong. When I got close to the crossing, I heard roxy and Soleil, so I had Rogue move over and we let them pass us and then I waited a couple of minutes before proceeding on. We had actually been doing okay, I just didn’t realize how defined the driveways were going to be. Once we passed all four, I began asking Rogue to “find the chair”. she walked right to the curb at the next road, so I had her turn around and then decided to try asking her to “find the bus” and she did. It was a really cool experience to be working solo with Rogue and succeeding in our mission to find the meeting spot.

Once we got back to Robin’s driveway, we all decided to trade dogs and see how it feels to walk a short block. I tried walking with Sherman, the male standard poodle, first. Sherman walks a lot slower than Rogue and is a lot taller and longer, so it was a really interesting experience. I think Sherman would be an awesome dog to go window shopping with.

After I got back to the driveway, I took soleil for a spin. walking with her was similar to walking with Rogue, but she is a bit shorter and Roxy is shorter than me, so the guide handle is short. I had a bit of trouble finding my groove with her and we missed the down-curb, but we survived and I think Roxy and I are going to try switching dogs tomorrow.

Both Roxy and Robin say Rogue is a really good dog and that her work is superb. robin says that once I refine my precision, Rogue’s work will shine. they say Rogue is stubborn and manipulative, so I need to wait her out and be more firm in my requests. This is something Huib has also been trying to work on with me, so hopefully with practice, I’ll finally master it.

Robin wants me to try talking less and to stop fidgeting when we’re stopped because she didn’t find Rogue as bad as I told her she was about standing straight and not moving at curb edges.

I’ve got some work to do. It’s really nice though to hear that my dog will work amazingly well with someone who has more precise movements and requests. It makes me even more motivated to work on being still and quiet.

In the afternoon we did some traffic checks, or “blind man’s chicken” as Roxy likes to call it.

Robin and Sherman went out first. Bill was driving their van and their daughter-in-law was driving her car. We had to walk around their cal neighbourhood while bill and april tried to block our path and run us down. Sherman did amazingly well, which wasn’t a surprise.

When it was our turn, I asked Rogue to take me to the curb at the end of the driveway and then to turn right. When we were walking down the block, we came upon a car parked across the sidewalk in their driveway, so after rogue showed me, I asked her to ‘forward’ and she…turned left…stopped at the curb and then proceeded to walk along the back of the car…and then went back up onto the sidewalk and continued our route. Shortly after that, we had another vehicle parked too close to the sidewalk, so Rogue took me as close to the road as needed and walked around it before returning to the path. At the next street, we crossed over diagonally, which was not supposed to happen. they live in an oddly shaped neighbourhood, so when Rogue showed me the curb, we were at a curve in the sidewalk and not quite at the actual crossing spot. So, even though we didn’t do the crossing correctly, we did go curb to curb the way we were lined up, so maybe that’s a sort of win??

After bill came over and directed me back to where robin and Sherman were waiting, I proceeded along the route and came across a car that turned in front of us, a few more vehicles blocking sidewalk access and a car honking it’s horn as it raced behind us. I probably missed describing some of the tests we went through, but in all cases rogue was an absolute super hero!! She did everything smoothly and when we were cut off or whatever, I often didn’t even notice, I either wondered if I was imagining things or it was done so easily that we didn’t even break stride. I really think we’re going to be okay with anything we encounter at home.

Last to go was Roxy and Soleil. roxy encounters a lot of aggressive driving and people using their horns a lot, so she asked bill and April to be a little more scary looking and sounding.

I am happy to report that we have all lived to see another day.

In the evening we returned to the capital building and met up with robin’s friend who has a one and a half year old blood hound named boo. I have never seen a blood hound before, so I asked Becky and she let me feel boo. he is really neat, I love his ears! they are SO big! rogue was a bit excited to see him, so before we got out of the van I put her Halti on and then took it back off a few minutes later because she calmed down. After the greetings were done, we walked back towards the big staircase at the capital building because Roxy wanted to practice them now that she had a proper stability handle. rogue did really well on the stairs. When she showed me the first step up, I moved over to the railing and asked her to show me it. she got really excited about that and even jumped up to put her paws on the top, lol! Once we reached the top, I turned around and asked her to show me the railing, which she did by jumping up again, lol! I am going to work on this cue because I am thinking it might make stairs a bit less scary because I will know Rogue is focused on showing me the railing first and not just on showing me the edge of the staircase.

after we finished with the stairs, the wind began to pick up, so we decided to do a really quick loop along the sidewalks in the area. rogue did well at avoiding all of the planters and at showing me the various grates along the way, lol! She really hates grates, it doesn’t matter how easy it is to step over, she just stops dead in her tracks. At one point along our walk, Rogue stopped and Bill came up and said he thought it was really cool to see her showing me that there was a sidewalk to my left, even though the intersection itself was a few metres further ahead. I asked him how he thought I could teach her to make more of a signal for me to understand what she’s showing me, he suggested I ask Robin about it. Once everyone had caught up, we turned and walked back towards the intersection that would take us to the van. rogue stopped to show me exactly where we had entered the capital building, which Bill also thought was neat, so we used the spot to wait for the others.

Oh, I forgot. Rogue saw a SQUIRREL along our route and was SO excited about it, but I got her to sit, target my hand, target my hip and lie down, so she quickly reigned her head.

robin came down to talk to me before bed about how Rogue and I are doing. she thinks Rogue is amazing and that Huib and I did a really good job with her training. she says that I need to work on being more black and white with her for a while before I start asking her to learn new skills like showing me places we’d already visited or paths that are branching off the sidewalk. She said that the problems we’re having seem to stem from the fact that I am not as confident since losing more sight 3 years ago and more hearing along with it. She said that we’re going to do some cane work (blah!) next week and she’ll give me some tips for recognizing useful landmarks when walking since before, I used my sight to follow the grass and pavement lines. She said that our issues are very minor and when I asked her “If I were to give you Rogue right now forever, would you feel safe working with her?”, she said absolutely! I am SO proud of my Rogie Monster, she’s been such an amazing teacher and friend.

I am going to close this entry by making a public promise to Rogue. Rogue, I promise to work hard at improving my orientation skills and I promise to work even harder at regaining my confidence. It’s the least I can do to repay you for all you’ve given me since you came into my life.

Wyoming Trip: Lots of Confusion

Everyone was dragging yesterday except for me. I woke up around 7am and other than needing a couple of coffees, I was good to go until midnight (Cheyenne time).

In the morning we visited the Wyoming capital building, which was interesting. bill parked the van and then we all walked a long block, crossed a street and then walked a bit before getting to a long set of stairs.

Rogue seems to be improving a lot on her curb approaches. Maybe it’s because I am now starting to use my left foot to probe for position, rather than my right. Or, maybe she sees what the other dogs are doing and is learning from observation. A couple of times we had to inch up to the edge of a curb because Sherman and Soleil were already there, but we really never had to inch up when it was just us.

Rogue showed me the bottom of the stairs perfectly. I want to practice having her target the railing if there is one at a staircase, so we won’t need to inch along the top or bottom to find it, but that will just take time. She is already targeting the railings at school, but I haven’t really named the behaviour, so that is probably most of my issue with getting her to generalize it to other places – WHOOPSIE!!!

At the top of the stairs, before we entered the building, there was a funky door. We had to step up, then Rogue had to back up and off the step in order for the door not to hit her paws. She did it perfectly!

In the capital building, we did a lot of just walking around. It was a bit confusing at times, so poor Bill had to either retrieve Roxy and Soleil or Rogue and myself.

Bill and Robin are an adorable couple. You can see how much Bill loves her in the way he watches her closely to make sure she is okay before he worries about the rest of us. I’m not sure, but maybe Huib’s like that too. I think it’s hard to notice things like that when it’s you and not someone you are with.

Rogue is doing quite well with her ‘follow’ cue, so most times it was me who caused the confusion with finding out which direction Robin went. Rogue would tell me we needed to turn or move over some direction and I would assume she was just getting bored with following and ask her to continue walking forward – WHOOPSIE!!

We did a couple of elevators and a few sets of stairs. Rogue did well at telling me there was stairs ahead, I just need to work on listening. We never tripped though, I was just really hesitant at moving towards them when I knew they were coming, or got worried some were near when Rogue would stop and I wasn’t sure what she was trying to show me.

I really don’t understand why I am so scared of stairs. I haven’t fallen down any stairs since I was in high school and working with my cane. All three of my previous guides were good at keeping me safe on stairs, so I don’t get why I am so fearful with Rogue.

Rogue needs to irk on walking over grates and metal plates because she will stop and refuse to move or she’ll jump over, making me nervous because I don’t know what we will encounter on the other side.

After finishing in the capital building we made our way back to the sidewalks that would lead us to a building with a revolving door. Poor bill was pretty exhausted yesterday, so his directions weren’t always the clearest, so at one point Rogue and I ended up walking into a corner, lol! She stopped though, I didn’t hit the corner, so that’s a good thing, right?

we didn’t end up doing a revolving door though because the building got rid of it. We were all getting kind of frustrated with the wind and stuff, so we decided to call it a session and head back for lunch.

In the evening we decided to take it easy and just took the dogs to a local feed store for some distraction work. We also had a chance to check out the numbers dog related stuff. Roxy got Soleil an elk antler and I got Rogue a new tug toy. The toy is made by Kong and consists of a blue rubber doughnut that squeaks and has a rope that leads to a handle for me to hold. I brought it down to our area when we got back to the house and Rogue wanted badly to check it out. We played tug for a few minutes and then went back upstairs. I am always looking for new and interesting tug toys for rogue since it’s her favourite game and she doesn’t really enjoy just tugging on a rope.

After dinner, Robin worked on modifying soleil’s harness so Roxy will have a counter-balance handle in addition to the guide handle. I got to check it out when it was done and I think it’s a pretty awesome idea.

Overall, I think thursday was a good day for both Rogue and I. We had some problems with navigation, but that part is my job, not hers.

Wyoming Trip: Oh…The Veering!

Welcome to boot camp.

Our first trip of the day was to a strip mall and older neighbourhood. Rogue did quite well navigating through the strip mall, but seems to have a bit of a bad habit of cuing off the other dogs, so Bill and I hung back and made Rogue work things out herself.

The sidewalks in the older neighbourhood were cracked, buckled and had various types of curb-cuts and obstacles. Rogue did well with the obstacles and was really careful on the sidewalks, slowing down to show me cracks and drops.

We had a lot of trouble with right side tendencies and veering though. It was SO frustrating!! near the end of the walk, I was so frustrated that i actually cried…SO embarrassing!

After lunch and a bit of rest, we set off for Sam’s Club because it was raining and thundering.

At Sam’s, we practiced stays with distractions, having our dogs walk around one another, walk past while the other was in a stay and a bit of recall. Rogue was awesome!! I think having the afternoon outing be such a success made my day end on a really good note, boosting my confidence.

Robin and I chatted in the evening about the issues I am having and she gave me a few suggestions to try out. She also thinks it would be neat to try out one another’s dog, so that should be really different, because Sherman is a big standard poodle and Rogue is a small female lab.

Wyoming Trip: Leaving On A Jet Plane

Don’t worry, we’ll be coming back again.

Early Tuesday morning, Huib and I woke up, took showers and got the Orlando ready to go to Pearson International Airport. Rogue and I were due to board the 8:15 flight to Denver.

At the airport, Huib and Dad walked us to terminal one, where we were met by a special services person from Air Canada. Huib and Dad were not allowed to pass through security, so after saying our goodbyes, Rogue and I followed the Air Canada person.

Rogue was awesome! She never once turned to see why Huib wasn’t joining us, she just guided me with complete confidence. We dropped our suitcase off at baggage checkin and then I had to remove various items to go through security – of course I beeped.

I was surprised that the security person didn’t ask me to take Rogue’s harness off or to have her come through the detectors alone. The lady just felt each of us lightly and then passed her wand over.

Around 7:30, Rogue and I finally reached the gate, where we waited for another Air Canada person to come escort us onto the plane. Usually the staff take persons with disabilities from place to place on a cart, but the woman who escorted us from security to the gate told me that whoever was driving the carts said they didn’t feel it was safe for Rogue. I really didn’t mind though. It was a bit of a walk, but it was also a good walk for Rogue before she would need to lie calmly on the plane for close to 4 hours.

Once our flight was called, a woman came over and escorted Rogue and I to the plane, where a flight attendant took us to our seat. Even though I was not sitting where the attendant thought I should be, bulkhead, Rogue had a good amount of space to just relax. She slept the entire flight, only getting up when people began moving around.

Once we landed, a flight attendant came to escort us to the doors, where a guy waited to take us to baggage, where our friends were waiting.

It was so awesome to finally meet Robin, Roxy and Bill for the first time in person. Bill helped me get my suitcase off the carousel and then we walked over to where Robin and Roxy were waiting with their dogs Sherman and Soleil.

After piling into the van, we made our way to Cheyenne, which is about an hour and a half or so from Denver.

At Robin and Bill’s house, we let the dogs play and then got ready to take the dogs out on their first walk in the area.

Rogue and I had some trouble with the funky curb-cuts in the area, but otherwise we did quite well.

I think this trip is going to be awesome for both of us because we are together without Huib and because both Robin and Roxy are willing to help us work out some of the kinks.

Rogue Is Freedom

This is my submission for the 15th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival.

According to the free online dictionary, freedom is:
“1. the state of being free, or
2. exemption from external control.”

Therefore, Rogue is FREEDOM.

Rogue joined our family on June 10th, 2011 but even before her arrival she had begun to set me free.

Five months before picking up Rogue I lost most of my usable vision, and in the process, lost myself. I had always been a confident person. Even after being with Huib for over a decade, I still found it difficult to ask for help…I never wanted him to see me as dependent. When my vision changed and I no longer saw the same way, my world fell apart. I was scared. I didn’t know how I would ever learn to get around on my own again. It was easier to just go places with Huib or other people.

When we learned that Cessna was developing cataracts I knew I was going to need to seriously think about a successor. I had tossed around the idea of owner-training, but it wasn’t until this diagnosis that I really thought about it. I had less vision now than when I got Cessna, so I thought it would be better to return to Dog Guides for a successor, but Huib said he was confident in my abilities, so he convinced me to take the plunge.

This decision marked the beginning of rogue’s journey with me towards freedom.

Huib and I had raised two puppies for Autism dog Services, so knew we needed to expose our new puppy to as many people and experiences as possible from the start. We knew some of the more basic commands we needed to teach, and had an idea of the guiding skills our trainee would need to learn. We had no clue how we were going to accomplish this though. We knew lots of people who were blind and had a guide dog, but we didn’t know anyone who had raised and trained their dog themselves. So I got on the computer and started to look for service dog blogs and service dog handlers who had owner-trained. I found several people in the United States and began asking them questions.

if it weren’t for Rogue, I’m not sure I would have ever had the desire or courage to reach out to so many strangers, many of whom have now become very good friends.

Through my research and discussions, I was able to develop a preliminary training plan. I say preliminary because over the past three years I have had to make changes in order to fit our needs.

Rogue and I have had our ups and our downs. owner-training is like an addiction, even when are hitting rock-bottom, you keep pressing on because you remember the high you got when things were at their best. Unlike an addiction though, owner-training often ends on a positive note.

Rogue turned three on the 13th and is working pretty much full-time with me. Cessna comes out when she wants, but I think she’ll retire fully really soon.

Rogue has not only enriched my life by being a friend, but she has also set me free. She forces me to go outside of my comfort zone and work hard at regaining my independence. In the process, I have found myself again. I am not completely comfortable with going everywhere on my own yet, but Rogue has shown me that it’s possible because she’s by my side.

Happy Birthday!!

guess who’s THREE…

RLR’s Babe In Total Control is 3!!

The silly puppy is gone.

A mature adult dog has taken it’s place.

My little Rogue Hurricane has been a dream addition to our family. I can honestly say she made it easier to say goodbye to Phoenix because she is a lot like him in ways that only make me laugh and smile.

Rogie, I’m not sure what we’d do without your enthusiasm in the morning or your numerous kisses throughout the day. You’ve enriched our lives so much and exceeded my expectations time and time again.

It’s been an awesome two years and ten months so far, I can’t wait to see what the future will bring for us as a team.

HAPPY 3rd BIRTHDAY MONSTER!!

Hard at Work

Or at least they are trying to seem as though they are hard at work…

Rogue and aiden are lying under a table at Costco. Aiden is wearing his red and black mesh Autism dog Services vest with a black martingale and red leash. rogue is lying behind him in her navy blue harness, light blue collar and black leather braided leash.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had people come up to me and ask if the dogs are no longer on duty at times like this.

even though we are obviously still in a public place, where pets are not welcome, people seem to think that because the dogs are lying quietly while we eat or whatever, that they are no longer working and can be loved.

I am always willing to talk to people about the dogs and often allow people to talk to them while they’re chilling, but I also try to inform the public about the fact that even though it may not look as though they are actively working, the dogs are still on alert and ready to move when asked, so as long as their working gear is on, they are on duty.

On an aside, rogue found it really hard to stay hidden with aiden under the table as well. he’s a big boy, so takes up almost all of the room, but she made a good effort at staying out of the way. Maybe it was having aiden there, but Rogue also did really well at staying down when I asked her to.

Could They Be Friends?

Aiden, Skye and Bailey have now been with us for almost a week and everyone is getting along quite well.

Our bed is a queen-size, but it isn’t quite big enough to fit 6 full grown retrievers, so let’s start with just the 5 labs.

Skye, Rogue, bailey, Cessna and Aiden are lying together on a black metal framed bed with a grey blanket. Skye is behind Rogue, they are closest to the headboard with Bailey next to Rogue, Cessna beside Bailey and aiden in front of everyone.

Rogue thought it would be cool to pose with her sister, skye. Don’t they look so much alike?

Rogue and skye on our bed. Skye is lying behind Rogue.

Cessna wasn’t so sure she could handle having her picture taken more than once, so here’s a shot of just the fox red labs and Bailey.

Skye, rogue, Bailey and Aiden on our bed. Skye is behind Rogue, Bailey is beside Rogue and Aiden is lying in front of them all.

Aiden and Bailey got tired of posing, so here’s Canyon with Rogue and Skye.

Skye, Rogue and Canyon on our bed. Canyon is beside Rogue and Skye is behind them.