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.

Six Months Old

Rogue is now 6 months old!

It’s hard to believe that she’s already been a part of our family for 125 days.

We’ve done a lot in those four months and she’s grown and matured tons.

Yesterday we took Rogue into Englehart and weighed her at the vet clinic. She now weighs 44.7lbs, which means she has gained almost 10lbs since September 13th. Her puppy coat no longer fits, so we are taking a bit of a break from public outings so that Huib has time to make her new one. He’s been quite busy with work, so hasn’t really had any time for anything other than sleep.

Since we misplaced our camera, I thought I’d share a picture of her brother Snickers. Snickers lives near Toronto, Ontario and weighs just under 50lbs.

Snickers at 6 weeks

Snickers at 6 months

Uninspired

Sorry for the lack of posting this week, but I just haven’t had anything to write about.

Everyone is doing well.

Rogue continues to grow and mature into a wonderful little girl. She is still learning to control herself around food, but we have now started to feed her with everyone else in the kitchen. We have Aspen and Canyon eat together using the bowl table, she used to share with Phoenix, and Cessna eats with Rogue on the other side of the kitchen. Rogue can get really jumpy and overexcited when she sees the food being prepared, so we have started to attach her to a leash that is around one of the couch legs. She seems to calm right down once she has the leash connected to her collar, so I’m hoping that she will learn with time, to just chill out and wait for the bowls to be put down. Other than that, we have been working on loose leash walking and are really hoping to have her ready for a Rally-O competition in November. Of course it will depend upon how much we practice and on whether her CKC paperwork comes in, but we can hope right?

Other than that, I’ve been busy with school reading and assignments. I actually got my first assignment back today and received a stellar grade, so I’m happy about that. The group discussion portion of the course still frustrates me, but the professor is supposed to be reorganizing the groups after she has marked the assignments we handed in today. Today’s assignment was to discuss and reflect on the group discussions and on how we felt our participation could be better. I’m not really sure this one went as well as the first assignment, but there are three other reflection papers to improve upon.

Nothing else is really new here. It has gotten really cold all of a sudden, so I’m sure we’ll have some snow pictures to share in the real near future. I was really hoping to have some more recent pictures of rogue to share with everyone, but it looks as though we have lost our camera. Maybe I’ll see if Huib can take some good ones with my IPhone.

For now, I’ll leave you with a couple pictures Huib took in June of Aspen and Canyon.

Five Months Old!

Sorry for the late post, but we had some internet issues until late last night…one of the cell towers nearby had been damaged by lightening – aww…country life lol!

Rogue is now 5 months old!

She hasn’t really learned anything new because we’re trying to get her current commands to a point where she’ll do them anywhere, and under any circumstance.

The only new thing we’ve started to teach, is LLW or loose leash walking. So far she has had three lessons, and is doing quite well. We’re not yet at a point where we are naming the behaviour, but I’m sure that by the time she is 6 months, it’ll be second nature.

Since I don’t have five new behaviours she knows, or places she’s been, I thought I’d share the nicknames she’s acquired:

• Pupparoo (or Pupper for short)
• Roagie
• Baby Girl
• Little Monster
• Roagalini Boacachini (not sure where that came from lol!)

It’s amazing to see how much she’s grown over the past few months.

Rogue (Pinky) at 6 weeks

When we got her, she was just over 11lbs and could fit comfortably in the space between my elbow and wrist.

Rogue at 10 weeks

Now, she is 35.9lbs and 18 inches tall. Her orange, black and yellow puppy collar no longer fits, so she has graduated to a red and black one with large and small fire hydrants on it. Her coat is also getting to be snug, so Huib will need to start making her new one quickly.

Rogue at 4 months (this is the newest picture we have because I think we’ve lost our camera with the past few weeks of pictures on it…)

I also had a chance to get some updated pictures of one of her sisters.

Josie (Violet) at 6 weeks

Josie at 5 months (33.1lbs and 20 inches tall)

I’m hoping to get some updated pictures to share of her other siblings, but no one else has yet had a chance to send them to me.

National Guide Dog Month – Should You Pet?

Sorry for slacking on these posts, but this weekend was pretty busy so I thought we’d just make it something that will happen each weekend this month – no “National Guide Dog Month” posts on weekends.

Today, Huib and I took Cessna and Rogue into town for a little sidewalk and intersection work. While walking the streets of Englehart, I heard a few people saying to their companions that they must not distract the working dogs. As I mentioned earlier in this post, we would actually like people to come up and ask to pet Rogue.

This got me thinking about all the service dog handlers who have a “absolutely no petting” policy, or who wish people would just stop asking.

Instead of taking the time to write a post about everything that has already been said by some other bloggers, I thought I’d just give links to their wonderful posts.

Teach Them Well by L^ & Jack

Don’t Pet by Nati & the Dogs

To Pet Or Not Pet A Guide Dog by Lynette & DeeDee

I am in the “ask, and I might let you pet my guide dog” camp.

I understand why some people have an “absolutely don’t pet my guide dog” policy.

And I understand why some get really annoyed by people constantly asking.

But, I have been blessed to have been matched with dogs who could care less about other people and their attempts at distracting them from their job.

I guess the bottom line is…to always ask someone before petting their dog, whether it’s a guide dog or pet. It’s just safer that way for everyone.

Puppy Love

Rogue has been with us for almost three months. I know this will sound cliché, but I honestly feel as though she was meant to be with us.

Ever since the day we picked her up, Rogue has been wiggling her way into our hearts.

She has more personality than any puppy I have ever raised or met.

She far exceeds our expectations daily.

And, to add to this all…she’s extremely cuddly and affectionate.

I know this goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyways…

I LOVE this puppy!!

New Liskeard

Yesterday Huib and I took Cessna and Rogue into New Liskeard to get some groceries. New Liskeard is about thirty minutes away, and provides many opportunities for getting almost anything you might want. Over the past week, Huib has been working a lot. And the week before, we didn’t really have a lot of desire to go very far from home.

So, we thought it was time to do some more extensive public training with Rogue, practicing her sits, downs, waits and starting to teach her some “loose leash walking”.

Cessna was guiding wonderfully. She was a little distracted by all the seagulls in the parking lot outside New Liskeard’s tiny mall, but she never once made any mistakes. I don’t think she really enjoys the trips where we do less continuous walking, and more practicing/teaching, but she was surprisingly patient.

Rogue was really excited to be out and about. She was eager to get started and investigate the world. Huib first got her to pee before putting on her “Service Dog In Training” jacket, and then proceeded to walk towards the mall doors. He stopped each time Rogue was pulling, and waited for her to return to his side while in the parking lot. This made the short walk, quite long. Once at the doors, Huib had Rogue sit and wait, while he opened it and only calling her through if she was still in the sitting position. Rogue seemed to transfer what we’d been doing with her at home to this situation, so it did not take much time for her to give Huib what he wanted. Once in the mall, she was pretty distracted at first. After having to stop several times, just trying to walk a few feet, I suggested we try using the clicker – clicking and treating when she was in the correct LLW position. It did not take Rogue long to figure out where she needed to be to get a treat, but of course, this being her first real LLW lesson, she will need further instruction. We tend to only use the clicker at home when we’re teaching new behaviours because Huib finds it tough paying attention to Rogue, where Cessna is guiding me, and clicking to be too much work. Now that he has seen how much the clicker is helping with teaching Rogue the correct walking position though, I think he will be more open to using it outside the house. In addition to asking Rogue for LLW, and a sit/wait at all doors, we would only allow her to greet other people if she was sitting nicely. It’s amazing to see how educated people are in the north, about not bothering service dogs, we actually went over to people we heard telling their children not to bother the dogs to ask if we could use them in teaching Rogue manners. When living in Southern Ontario, it wasn’t this difficult to find people, willing to just come up, and ask to pet the dogs lol!

I think the main two successes of this trip were that:
• Rogue did not have one accident

AND

• Rogue didn’t once pull like a sled dog

Just Canyon & Rogue

Here are some random pictures from the past few weeks that we found on the camera.

It’s tough being a puppy…

Rogue, you’re supposed to be doing something…other than playing!

Isn’t he a handsome boy?

Rogue Randomness

I thought I’d post an entry about some random Rogue news.

I got a message from Rogue’s breeder the other day and was informed that our first choice for her registered name has gone through!

Now, without further a due, let me present to you…

RLR’s Babe In Total Control

Doesn’t this formal name seem so fitting?

I wanted it to actually be Babe In Total Control Of Herself (see what the first letters of each word put together gives you?), but the Canadian Kennel Club only allows for thirty characters, including the breeder’s name, punctuation and spaces.

You’re probably all wondering where this name came from. Well, I was reading some of the entries Jess, of At A Glacial Pace,
wrote before I knew her and was inspired by this particular one.

In other news. Huib helped me measure Rogue the other day, and she’s huge! At just over 4 months of age, she is already 17 inches tall, 15 inches long, and about 30lbs!!

To give you all a comparison, we also measured Canyon, who is a 2 year old intact male golden retriever. He is 22 inches tall, 22 inches long and 77lbs! To be honest though, I actually thought Canyon was taller than that, since Cessna and Aspen are actually around the same height lol!

The changes in Rogue that we’ve noticed over the past week seem to be staying. It’s almost like we’ve mixed up our puppy with someone else’s. She was never a bad puppy, but she just seems so much further in her training and maturity than before our trip to London/Guelph last week. I’m not sure if it’s going to be short lived, or if witnessing Phoenix’s departure caused the changes, but it’s honestly mind boggling. She’s still testing us when it comes to her recall, but it’s like all of a sudden, she’s able to chill for long periods of the day, she’s extremely attentive and people oriented, and her obedience commands seem to be clicking. She’s also down to having about an accident every 2-4 days, so I think she’s well on her way to being house trained.

Yesterday Huib and I thought we’d take all the dogs into town to do some training in a park. Aspen will never be a competition dog, she’s just to timid and set in her ways, but we thought she could use the practice and might like being more involved. Cessna on the other hand could always use the practice and we knew she would be a great role model for the others, so of course she came along.

There is a sheltered area in the park where they’ve set up several benches around the edges, so we attached everyone’s leash to a spot where they couldn’t bother one another. Then, we had everyone go into a down and started to walk from dog to dog, only giving out treats if they were in the same position we left them in. this is an exercise I learned during my classes with Dogs In the Park.

Cessna was an absolute star, not budging once from her down-stay. She had some trouble with her sit-stays though, always going back into a down after I walked away or within a few seconds of getting her treat, so we’ll need to work on those.

Aspen was actually surprisingly good at remaining in her down and for part of the lesson, in her sits.

Canyon was pretty good at his down-stays, but I think he got bored after a bit so would try seeing if I noticed him get up lol! I’d just wait and then walk over quickly with a reward if he went back down. His sit-stays were non-existent though, so we’ll definitely have to practice.

With Rogue I am using the word “wait” because I don’t want to teach the “stay” until she is ready for her guiding commands. The “stay” command is really important in guiding so I don’t want to teach it wrong. She did pretty well with her down-waits, holding some for as long as 3-5 minutes before getting up again. I haven’t really done something like this with her, so I was quite impressed with how well she caught on. Like the others, her sit-waits were pretty terrible, but I’d have to say they were definitely better than Cessna and Canyon’s lol!

I think Huib and I are going to try and do these group lessons at least once a week, since they seemed to give Aspen some confidence and Rogue and Canyon will benefit from the distractions – especially if I want to trial with them.

I’ll try and get Huib to take some pictures next time we’re at the park, we had forgotten the camera on the coffee table.

Four Months Old

Today Rogue is four months old.

Here are 4 new commands she has learned this month:

1. Down
2. Off (used when she jumps up or to have her get off furniture)
3. Leave It
4. Up (used to have her jump up onto furniture or into the truck)

This past month has been a little stressful with Phoenix, so we really haven’t had a chance to do too much with our little girl.

Other than some training each day at home, we’ve taken Rogue and Cessna to see two movies at a local theatre (Harry Potter & The Deathly Hollows and Pirates of The Caribbean), in addition to the usual shopping adventures, when Huib has had some time off.

Otherwise, Rogue has already gotten four of her very front adult teeth, and has almost grown out of her first collar and puppy coat.

Here are some pictures from our St. Jacob’s Market trip we took last month.