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.

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.

8 Years Already

HAPPY 8TH ANNIVERSARY HUIB!!

It’s hard to believe eight years have already gone by since our amazing wedding day.

I can still remember the stress of planning and then the excitement as the day drew near. I still remember the butterflies I had getting dressed in my gorgeous wedding dress, knowing that in just one short hour I’d be walking down the aisle. I still remember the huge smile I couldn’t hide as I walked with Dad and Uncle Daryl to join you at the front of the room with Reverend Anne. Even though we had been together for 5 years, I still remember how thrilled I was to be told we were now “husband and wife”.

Huib, you complete me. Before you, I was happy and content with my life, but with you I’m whole. I was fine on my own, but with you, I’m perfect.

thank you for 8 wonderful years as your wife, and thank you for 13 unforgettable years as your friend and lover.

Dr. Colleen Dell

Dr. Colleen Dell is the Research Chair in Substance Abuse at the University of Saskatchewan. Her work focuses on research, community outreach and training. Currently, Dr. Dell is working on a research project that incorporates therapy dogs into the field of addiction and substance abuse. another interesting research project she worked on involved horse assisted therapy for youth in treatment.

Rogue and I were invited to a meeting with Dr. dell and various dog-related organization heads on Friday afternoon. Dr. Dell and her therapy dog, Anna-Belle came to Hamilton to talk about her current project and to try and stir-up some interest among other people in the field.

There were about 12 people at the meeting including Huib (who came as my guide) and I. In addition to Rogue, there was Anna-Belle and then another service dog that I cannot remember the name of. He is a 10 year old whippet who helps a woman with mobility issues. It was surprising, but all of the dogs pretty much ignored one another – Good Girl Rogie!!

the meeting began with everyone introducing themselves and then everyone began asking Dr. Dell questions about her research and then asking for her opinion regarding issues they were encountering with their own programs. I really need to work on figuring out how I would like to introduce myself without making me sound unworthy of attending such events. I also need to do some research into the various people that attended the meeting because there are some pretty interesting programs in Hamilton.

In the evening Dr. Dell held a public discussion at an art gallery in downtown Hamilton. In order to make sure Dr. dell and Dr. James Gillett, a McMaster University professor I really want to work with knew I was serious about becoming involved in their research projects, Huib, rogue and I attended the talk. Like the earlier discussion, I found the public talk very informative. I wish I could have seen some of the pictures she showed from her various projects, but otherwise I enjoyed learning about her horse research and about her current research into using dogs in a therapeutic setting.

I will be meeting with Dr. James Gillett on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of assisting him in some service dog related projects he is considering – I’m SO excited!!

The Rogue Lesson

No matter what we think, our dogs are always watching and learning.

This is the most important lesson rogue has taught me.

Let me explain.

As most of my blog readers already know, Rogue is my Guide Dog In Training.

Cessna will be 10 years old tomorrow, so I would like to begin retiring her after Christmas. She could still work another year or so, but I would like to have her enjoy at least a couple years of care-free pet life before she becomes too old to do so.

I began Rogue’s formal guide work training last fall, starting with basic forward guiding in hallways. Over the past year, Rogue has learned how to:

Follow directional cues;
Take me around various obstacles;
Manoeuvre through crowds;
Find doors, curbs and stairways;
Stop at curbs; and more recently,
She has gone on short trips with me.

The past twelve months have not been smooth sailing. It seems as though, for every success, there have been double the obstacles.

First we had the gear issue. rogue has always had a problem with how certain gear feels and it takes her a really long time to get used to wearing something as simple as a new collar.

Then we had the confidence issue. It’s probably pretty normal, but to me, it seems as though rogue takes a lot longer to feel comfortable with a new concept or route. when we begin working on a new route, for example, she will often stop every few steps to check in with me, or if she’s feeling really uncertain, she’ll sit and refuse to move. Even if i can get her moving, it honestly feels as though she is walking with a pickle between her bum cheeks. but, once she feels good about the new route, she picks up speed and walks faster than Cessna’s usual pace.

Our most recent problems though have been my fault. I have forgotten something important. I forgot how easy it is to “teach” a dog something you didn’t mean to “teach” them.

Rogue is very close to being able to take over, at least part-time, from Cessna. We just have one little problem.

Somehow, I taught Rogue that it is important for her to stop three feet back from a down curb and at least a foot back from the up curb – Whoopsie!

How did I teach her such a thing you ask?

It was a little easier than you’d think…

While we were working on learning to stop at curbs, I would dramatically tell Rogue that she had overstepped the curb edge and then immediately turn back and re-do it. the problem came from the distance I tended to walk back to before approaching the curb again. for some reason, I kept walking three feet back from a down curb and about a foot back from an up curb – Double whoopsie!

Now Rogue thinks she needs to stop exactly where we used to stop when re-working the curb…

Here i thought Rogue was having trouble learning what I wanted, when in fact, she was giving me exactly what I had taught her to do – Silly Human!

In order to fix the mistake, I have asked Huib to help me re-teach rogue proper curb approaches. he takes her out, in harness, to practice five up curbs and five down curbs each day. It’s taken her about two weeks, but she’s begun to have a 90% success rate, so we’ve begun going out together and Huib stops me the second Rogue is about to overstep a curb or tells me to keep going if she’s beginning to slow down too soon. when rogue does it correctly, Huib clicks and I give her a treat.

It’s amazing to look back at all rogue and I have accomplished in twelve months, but it’s more amazing, to look back at all of the lessons she’s taught me.

She’s taught me that not every dog learns the same way. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

She taught me that sometimes you need to step back and appreciate what you’ve already learned.

She’s taught me that no matter how well-behaved she can be, she is and always will be a dog.

She’s taught me that I’m not perfect.

and, most importantly, she’s taught me that it may not look like it, but she’s always watching and learning.

The Rogue roller Coaster

The past month has been full of ups and downs for rogue and I.

We are really getting into the tough part of training and it’s been quite the roller coaster.

We’ve had really good training sessions, and then we’ve had okay training sessions. I guess a positive part of all this is that we haven’t had any really bad training sessions.

Rogue is getting really comfortable with her new working gear and she is slowly settling into her guiding responsibilities.

I’ve been really focusing on her curb approaches, directions and confidence.

I’ve been trying to find friends willing to work with us, to give Rogue an opportunity to work without Huib.

I find my dogs get really comfortable with Huib and forget to focus on their jobs. they get into the habit of expecting Huib to take care of me, instead of just working along side him. It’s not just a problem rogue has, but one both Cessna and Phoenix have been guilty of.

Since Rogue and I did a lot of work in malls when we lived in the north, she is extremely confident and her work is almost always spot on. We had two really amazing training sessions that I wish i could have videoed. Her pace was amazing, her obstacle work was perfect, and her precision had me speechless.

Then, when we went to London to see my neuro ophthalmologist, she had me again speechless. She was guiding me around people and through the hospital hallways with such confidence, you’d think she had been there before. she was turning left and right when I asked and she only blew her up curbs by a couple of steps. Huib was with us and was so proud of the work we had done.

Last week I took Rogue and Cessna to the University of Guelph to learn the route from the bus stop to my class. I decided to start by working with Cessna, and then do it with Rogue. I thought Rogue would be able to learn from watching Cessna work – I was completely wrong. When it was Rogue’s turn, her pace was slow, we struggled with our curb approaches but her obstacle work and overall work was okay. I was frustrated because I didn’t understand where my confident little worker had gone.

On Saturday I returned to the campus with a friend to do some more work with Rogue. We still struggled with our curb approaches, she keeps stopping a few feet away from the down curb and then when we inch our way closer, she ends up blowing the curb by a couple of steps. her up curbs were a little better, but she was still taking a couple steps too much. her pace was better though and looking back, I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that her confidence level was higher, since we had been to the campus before. We worked on the route from the bus stop to my class and Rogue did well at finding the stairs, finding the doors, finding the ramps and even finding the elevator, but I think the biggest thing I realized was that I didn’t trust her. I was okay when I knew there wasn’t any stairs I could fall down, but as soon as I knew, or even thought, there were stairs coming up, I felt myself tensing and noticed Rogue’s attention drifting.

overall, I’d have to say rogue worked well, but I need work.

After talking to some friends about the work Rogue and I have done over the past month, I came to the conclusion that we aren’t going to get to the point where she can take over from Cessna if I don’t start getting her out daily. If I’m going to trust rogue, like I trust Cessna, then I am going to have to put in the time.

I’m going to get my cane out and use it to help rogue learn exactly where I want her to stop at curbs and stairs, while also using it to give me confidence that we’re safe.

I think the curb issues stem from something i unintentionally taught her.

To be honest, it seems that most of the issues I have with my dogs are because of something I unintentionally teach, lol!

I’m really going to try and make a conscious effort to get Rogue out daily, even if it means we need to work a bit in the rain.

Books That Make You Think

Have you ever read a book that left you thinking? A book that left you thinking, yes, that is exactly how I feel?

Well, I’m reading a series that is doing just that.

I’ve just begun reading the In Death series by JD Robb (Nora Roberts), from the beginning.

So far, I’ve read the first four books; “naked In Death”, “Glory In Death”, “Immortal In Death” and “Rapture In Death”, and have begun the fifth.

Before I go into what the books are about and my review of them, I’ll explain why the series has me thinking, “Yes! This is exactly how I feel” and “Maybe I should change the way I feel”.

Intertwined with the crime and mystery aspect of the books, is the relationship between Eve Dallas, the main character, and the former thief turned Irish billionaire who loves her, Roarke.

Now, you’re probably wondering, how does this apply to my life…here it is…

Throughout the progression of the relationship between Eve and roarke, she’s constantly asking herself why this man, who could have any woman he wanted, wants her and loves her so deeply. she sees herself as nothing more than a broken child who worked her way up to becoming a superstar homicide lieutenant. meanwhile, rorke is a handsome billionaire who could have any woman in the world.

It sounds so weird, but I find myself asking this same question about Huib. I know he loves me to death, but I keep wondering why. Why did he choose to be with me? Why does he feel content with supporting me and with being responsible for helping me, when he could have chosen to ignore my attempts at making him notice me (almost 13 years ago) and be with someone less demanding of his time and efforts?

I guess Eve and I both share the common feeling of not being worth the effort. Of not being anything special, but ourselves.

After months of trying to make Eve understand why he feels so deeply for her, and to show her that she is indeed worthwhile, Roarke finally gets angry and says it straight out. He tells her that he needs and wants her, and that she needs to learn to just accept that.

This is when I began thinking. thinking about my questions regarding why Huib has chosen me. thinking about what sorts of issues my questions might be causing without me knowing. Thinking about why I shouldn’t feel worthwhile and deserving of Huib’s love and devotion.

Huib has chosen to be with me. We have been together for almost thirteen years. We’ve been married for almost seven and a half years. Does it really matter why he chose me? Does it really matter why he cares so deeply? I do deserve to be with Huib, so I’m going to stop over thinking things and just accept the fact that I need him (not financially, but emotionally) and just maybe, he also needs me.

Instead of going into what each book is about, I’ll just say that I love the series so far. the outcome is a little predictable, but you’re always left wondering who the “bad guy” is up until the end. It’s a little hot and steamy when you get to the parts involving eve and roarke at home, but there’s enough crime and suspense mixed into the book, so you’re not left feeling as though you’re reading a cheesy romance novel.

So far, I have twenty-four books to read from the series, but there are another ten or more after that I need to find.

It’s always fun to have a series that pulls you in, especially one that goes on for so long.

Update From Guelph

It’s time for an update.

We’ve been in our new home for one whole week!

The move from Englehart back to Guelph was relatively uneventful. The only problem we had was with the size of the moving truck. even though UHAUL claimed the truck was large enough to fit a 3-bedroom house, we ended up having to rent a trailer to go along with it.

Since arriving, we’ve set up most of the rooms and probably unpacked about a third of the boxes.

When we left Englehart, the weather had just begun to warm up and the snow was more slush than anything else. But, in Guelph, the trees and flowers are blooming and the temperatures have been in the low to mid twenties. Huib said it best the other day, when he said that he felt as though we were on vacation – the weather is just so drastically different here.

Almost immediately upon arriving at the house, the dogs seemed to settle in. It was almost as if they were also ready to leave the north.

Our friends Kelly and Josh have come over twice with their dogs for play dates, and their visits have made us really feel as though we are finally back home, where we are meant to be.

Moving north was a good experience for Huib, but for me it was the opposite.. I loved the sounds and smells of nature, but that’s about all I loved about the north. I hated the fact that I could never go anywhere independently and I hated the fact that I felt resentment toward Huib.

Now that we’re back in Guelph, I have already begun the process of relearning how to work with and trust Cessna. We had some opportunities to work together while living in the north, but we really never had a chance to work alone, most of the time we were following Huib through stores. It’s going to take a couple of months to really feel comfortable enough to go out on my own, both because of losing some of my sight since moving away and because we barely worked in the north.

On Monday, Huib, Cessna and I walked to the grocery store together. I worked with Cessna, while Huib walked a few feet behind. It was so awesome to feel the freedom of walking with my little black lab again. even though she will be 10 in October, her work is still amazing and the tension in her harness is perfect. I wasn’t sure for a while if she would want to work anymore, but those worries were soon erased when I felt the pride seeping out of her through the harness handle. She guided me with confidence and only made a couple of very minor mistakes. First, she stopped a few feet shy of the curb edge, then she didn’t quite get us to the correct spot on the curb to cross and finally, she got slightly distracted and started guiding me into the garden centre at the store. these are really minor issues and ones that can be easily remedied.

As a side note, there is a Canada goose who resides on the grass beside the sidewalk on the way to the grocery store. Thankfully, Huib had taken a walk over to the store a few days before, so knew about the goose and warned me to watch and directed me on where to walk in order to avoid any real confrontation. as we approached the goose, I felt Cessna become alert and the tension in her harness increased, I calmly told her “leave it” and directed her to continue walking straight. Huib said the goose was hissing and squawking at us, but that as we walked closer and by him/her, it moved away. I’m not sure I’ll feel comfortable enough to walk by it on my own, but with Huib’s guidance, I was able to keep Cessna focused enough to get by the bird. Cessna has a really high prey drive, so getting her to walk by birds and small animals without getting overly aroused can be difficult, but I did it!

I think that’s about it for now. Sorry for the disorganized ramble.

When I Need To Escape

Last week I read about daily blogging prompts WordPress sends out via Twitter and I immediately joined the feed. As many of my blog readers know, finding something to write about the past year has been a bit of a struggle, so any help I can get is greatly appreciated.

today’s prompt is: “Tell us about your oasis. Where do you go when you need a break from life.”

When I’m feeling stressed and need to escape, I go to the internet and begin browsing the websites of golden retriever breeders. Even though I cannot see the pictures, I find it relaxing to read about the various dogs, about their accomplishments and about the current and planned litters.

Huib says that even though he doesn’t always see what I am looking at on the computer, he usually knows from the expression on my face. He says that I seem to always be smiling when I’m looking at a dog-related website lol!

In related news. Huib and I have started filtering through the various Ontario golden breeder websites in order to shorten the list for our potential golden female. Once we’ve eliminated all of the breeders who breed dogs that do not fit our ideal type, then I will begin e-mailing the ones that are left, for information. With the information I receive back, we’ll be able to further eliminate breeders from our huge list.

Now it’s your turn to tell me about your oasis. Where do you go when you need to get away from life?