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.

Coursework

Now that my final grades are in, I am officially done the coursework portion of my masters degree!!

It was a tough semester, full of migraines and times when I didn’t want to write, but I made it through with some great marks.

My thesis supervisor would like me to consider taking two more courses just in case I decide to forgo the thesis and just do a major research project. I know I want to do the thesis so I’m sticking to my decision not to take more for now.

Since my thesis topic is heating up in the media and on the web, I need to rethink my methods for gathering data. I think I will spend the rest of May reading about research methods that use social media and blogs. Then once I feel really comfortable with my new methods, I need to write something up for my presentation in July.

Oh yeah!! I haven’t told you all.

I have been accepted to do a poster presentation at the 24th Annual Conference of the International Society of Antrozoology. The conference will take place in Saratoga Springs, New York July 7th to 9th. I could have waited to see if they had room for me to do an oral presentation, but since I did one in March, my supervisor and I agreed this would be a good opportunity to learn about doing a poster.

I will try to update everyone on my research progress as I go along.

ENGAGE 2015

On the 14th, I was invited to present at a student conference at the University of Guelph.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Making the Familiar Strange in the Social World.” The keynote speaker was Dr. Thomas McIlwrath.

The various presentations were broken down into sessions of four or five presenters. The morning and afternoon had two sessions of three choices.

I was the fourth presenter in my session and had another student follow me. When it was my turn, Huib set up my computer for the powerpoint and Rogue came with me to the podium.

I was SO freaking nervous!!! I was honestly on the verge of tears, so thankfully no one told me to speak louder or I would have probably started blubbering. I’ve never been so nervous and I didn’t even know you could be nervous enough to cry.

the talk went well. I spoke clearly and didn’t miss anything. Huib said he could hear the quiver in my voice, but that he felt I did really well. I had to keep repositioning Rogue throughout, so Huib suggested I stop next time and fix her so that I’m not having to do it over and over. In Rogue’s defence, I think she sensed my nervousness and wanted to take me back to where Huib was sitting. The only other thing that went wrong was that I got disoriented in where I was supposed to look and even though my body faced the group, I was looking towards the wall, lol!!

My powerpoint consisted of pictures of my dogs as puppies and in their working gear. I had pictures of Cessna, Aiden, Reece, Rogue and Arizona. I also had various screen shots of recent media coverage of service dog issues.

I memorized my entire presentation – it was just over 12 minutes long. I introduced myself and explained why I was interested in the topic. I gave a brief introduction of animal-assisted intervention and eased people into the world of service dogs. Then discussed my research questions and methods.

Once the presentation was over, I was asked questions from two different people. One person asked me about the methods I have chosen and how I planned to get participants for my interviews and focus groups. The other person asked me about the theory I planned to use as a guide for my research. I answered the first question pretty easily, but the second was tougher. I am planning to use critical disability theory. I understand the theory itself, but I didn’t know how to expand that knowledge to answer the person’s question regarding why I chose that theory.

Even though I was really stressed out about this conference and about presenting, I’m glad I did it.

For anyone who is interested, here is a copy of the long program for the conference. It gives you the abstracts of the various presentations. Mine is in the session titled Grab Bag.

Engage Program 2015_Long

Getting Into the Christmas Spirit

Now that I am done school for a few weeks, it was time to turn the house into a holiday oasis.

Kira hugs a big, tall spruce tree.

Huib cuts down the tree.

Kira, Huib and I went to a tree farm just outside of Guelph to pick out our Christmas tree.

I am standing in front of our Christmas tree with my sister

Me with my sister and step-dad in front of the tree. We also have /Canyon, Rogue, Cessna, Arizona and their cousin Dexter sitting with us.

After we did some decorating, Brandi I headed to Walmart to pick up some last minute decorations.

I also did some modelling…

This is a light brown dog hat. The ears move along to some Christmas music.

This one is a red and white elf hat with bells that sings & moves.

Her's a red Santa hat with zebra print on the brim and the pom-pom.

This is a camouflage hat with moose antlers that move along to Christmas music.

We had a busy and fun weekend. I can’t wait for Christmas to come.

Grrr

Says Arizona…

The Wild child has a new game.

It’s not a game that most dog owners would like their puppy to play, but it’s okay with us as long as she plays by our rules.

She thinks it’s great to grab your arm or hand and take you for a walk while wagging her tail wildly and making growly noises.

I’m not sure if it’s a side effect of me teaching her to take and hold a bumper or if it’s just something she decided to do on her own, but it’s helping her training anyway.

she has always been a vocal puppy, but with the addition of holding arms or hands, it’s pretty entertaining.

We are teaching her to hold gently and that the game stops when we ask or when she hurts us. She is still learning the soft hold, but it’s coming along. As for the stopping when we ask, she is actually quite good about it.

Are there any games your dog likes to play that you don’t mind, but others might not approve of?

Time for a Break

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about a break from blogging. I’m talking about a break from school.

As everyone has probably noticed, I’ve been adding some long-awaited updates on a variety of things we’ve been up to. Sorry for the back dating, I just want the blog to sort of be chronological.

I handed in my final assignment for the semester yesterday afternoon and finished marking all of the papers for my two tutorials, so it’s time to start my Christmas break!

It has been a VERY busy semester. Part of it was me trying to figure out how things work as a graduate student, but most of it was the marking and assignments. I’m not complaining though, I loved it all!

I think I did pretty well this semester.

last week I had to hand in a proposal to request permission to do the 2 year thesis option. I’m still waiting for a response. I hope they like my idea.

Hmmm, what else can I tell you.

Next semester I am signed up to take a policy course and another class that will explore the world of animal therapy, so I’m pretty excited about those.

Well, that’s it for school updates. I’m off until January 5th, so I hope to do some work on the blog and post a little more often.

I hope everyone is doing well and I look forward to sharing more of our adventures.

Growing Up

It’s hard to believe we have already had our Wild Child for 3 months, but it’s true!

Arizona hanging over the edge of the big jet tub, playing in the bubbles. She has bubbles around her nose and under her chin.

Arizona is maturing and growing quickly, but she’s still just as crazy as ever.

Hmmm….what’s been happening with her since the last time I wrote…

Ari is now 19 inches tall, 18 inches long, has a 22 inch girth and weighs 38.5lbs.

She is also teething, so we really have to watch what she puts in her mouth. She seems to think everything is chewable. So far she has redesigned our front door mat, added some artistic touches to a few baseboards and created handfuls of wood chips, doing her beaver impression on fallen tree branches in the backyard.

On the training front –

We have started field lessons, so our homework right now is to work on having her sit in one spot until we give her a release word, to not just come when we whistle and to walk on our left side.

We are working with Susie Bell of Pinebank Labrador Retrievers. Susie is a Labrador Retriever breeder who teaches both obedience and field work. With our schedule and my visual limitations, we have decided to do private lessons, so we meet with Susie every 2-3 weeks.

Our work with Arizona is slow going, but she’s getting there. we really want to avoid luring and forcing her into position as much as possible, so it’s taking longer to teach her to sit and heel then it could.

Ari is a bundle of energy, but she is extremely curious and confident, so it’s been a learning experience for us and a lot of fun at the same time. I had hoped to be further in her basic training by now, but with her energy and independent-mindedness, I needed to take a step back and let her mature and let me enjoy her without the frustration. I did this with Rogue and even though her training took longer, I think that in the end she became a better companion for us, so I hope the same can be said for Ari when she’s Rogue’s age.

we finally got Arizona’s CKC paperwork in the mail this past week. She is now officially registered as: Taygold’s Kindred Spirit.

She will make her conformation debut next weekend at the Elgin County Kennel Club show, which also happens to be the Purina National. Arizona is still considered a Baby Puppy, so she will only show on Sunday. Canyon is also entered, but he shows on both Saturday and Sunday with Huib and then again on Saturday with our friend Kira, who will make her debut as a Junior Handler.

I am not so sure Ari will do well in the CKC conformation shows, because she’s from a working line, so I talked to my friend Amy who has Dalmatians and I think we’re going to try and show our dogs together in the US starting in February. I just need to ask Arizona’s breeder for full breeding rights, so that I can register her with the AKC – wish me luck!

That’s probably about all I have to update everyone on for now with Arizona. I have some entertaining antics to share, but I will try and put them together in a separate post.

3 Months Already!!

Our little golden girl is now 3 months old.

Arizona sits on a big rock.

Arizona has experienced a lot of new things over the past two weeks.

On the 8th, we met up with our friends Karen and Spark at waterloo Park. When we arrived there were a couple guys playing drums, the noise didn’t phase Rogue or Arizona. We walked around the various park animals; peacocks, llamas, ponies, donkeys, pigs, ducks deer and chickens. Rogue was really interested in the animals, but was able to still guide me safely – which is a huge improvement from her predecessor, who couldn’t ever work in a park or around other animals. Arizona was interested in all of the animals, but really liked the ducks. after touring the animals we walked along the various paths and over bridges.

Arizona has become really confident on leash, so it’s definitely time to buy her a harness, so she doesn’t get into the habit of pulling on her collar.

On the 9th we went to Kira’s trailer. this was Arizona’s first opportunity to try out swimming. Because of the rough water I decided to have her wear a life jacket. she took to water so quickly that you’d think she has always been swimming.

Arizona runs down a cement boat ramp towards the water. She's wearing a pink camo life jacket.

While at the lake Arizona met several people and got to play with two poodles and a shepherd mix.

Arizona swims towards our friend Kira. You can see her little tail straight out behind her.

After swimming we hung out for a while and had dinner with Kira and her mom. Arizona dug up Sam’s garden – BAD PUPPY!! – and got to see a campfire for the first time.

Side view of rogue on a dock looking out at the water. She's wearing a red with black life jacket.

Rogue swam a bit more than previous years, but still felt more comfortable when she wore her life jacket.

On the 10th we went to visit Phoenix’s foster mom, alice, at her retirement home. Arizona found it a bit warm there, but finally settled on the tile after being pet by over a dozen people. she had wheelchairs and walkers pass her while she napped, but she didn’t even care.

After leaving Alice we went to my Aunt Dawn’s place where Arizona had a chance to meet my Aunt’s three little dogs, as well as, my cousin and her two kids. Arizona had no issues with my Aunt’s dogs and she played well with my cousin’s kids.

the only thing she did at one point that wasn’t so good was when she tried to pull the 3 year old’s shorts down, lol!

On the 13th Arizona had her first vet appointment. Bianca says she is a really healthy puppy and thinks she will be tall and slim. Arizona is just over 20lbs and got boosters for both Parvo and distemper. Bianca wasn’t sure about what the breeder’s vet gave the puppies, so decided to go with the boosters in order to make sure Arizona didn’t miss the important period of full immunity. She said her fecal test came back fine and that she doesn’t feel Arizona needs to go on Revolution this year. She says we’ll give her the rabies vaccine around a year of age like we did with Rogue, so we won’t need to bring her back until the others come for their annual check up.

On the 14th we went to Kira’s final soccer game of the summer. Arizona was busy mowing the lawn and exploring the area around our chairs the entire game, so when we got home she was absolutely exhausted.

On Friday night Arizona didn’t want to sleep, so I ended up having to go downstairs and sleep on the couch with her so that Huib could sleep for work. We had a really rough day on Saturday, which might also have been related to my horrible migraine, so when Huib got home in the evening I had a complete breakdown. I told him that I regret getting Arizona and that I feel as though she’s too much for us. I told him that I wished I had returned her after a week so we could get our money back, but that I knew that wouldn’t be happening now. I told him how frustrated I was about her mouthiness and vocalness and how I believed she was rude and mean to the other dogs.

Huib patiently listened to me while holding my hand and then gave me a big hug, and took over caring for Arizona for the rest of the night.

On Sunday we went to Pet smart and I bought Arizona two new crinkly Skinneez toys, a giraffe and an alligator, and then picked out a Mickey Mouse collar and harness. the collar is black and the harness is red with each of them having a ribbon sewed on it with Mickey’s head shape in red, yellow and blue. My description probably doesn’t make the most sense, so I’ll try to get a picture of them soon.

the past two weeks have been really challenging.

Arizona is extremely smart and devious, so we’ve really had to keep a close eye on her and make sure to use every moment as a teachable one.

I’ve continued to work on recall, ‘leave it’ and sit, and have begun introducing down and hand targeting.

I really hope my migraines calm down soon so that I can work more regularly with Arizona on these Level 1 behaviours, but in the meantime I am just trying to do at least a couple training sessions a day.

Wyoming Trip: Final Day

It’s hard to believe we go home tomorrow. It’s been an awesome trip and a really good experience for Rogue and I. We still have some work to do when we get home, but seeing how well she worked for me here has shown me that we will be okay in the end.

This morning we went to a local college campus to work on some orientation and stairs.

When we arrived at the college, Bill explained the route and I was supposed to meet up with Robin and Sherman in the first building. Rogue and I got out of the vehicle, I asked her to go forward and over left. She walked forward and moved slightly left, but I couldn’t find a curb, no matter how much I moved my left foot. Bill finally came over and explained that I was not quite at the curb, that Rogue had stopped 4 feet from a puddle that was in front of the curb I had directed her to. I turned around, walked back to the vehicle and then tried again – we did it.

Once we got into the building, Robin began talking to me about the importance of working Rogue through such issues, saying that if I had been somewhere alone that I did not know, I would have been screwed. I got a bit defensive and Robin got annoyed, so she turned around and walked back to the vehicle. I walked back towards the vehicle a few minutes later, but stopped at the curb and did some obedience with Rogue because I needed to figure out what to do to fix the situation with Robin. After about 5 minutes, bill came over and asked if I wanted a ride. I told him I wanted to apologize to Robin, but that I was also frustrated because i was telling the truth when I said that I would not go somewhere without knowing the exact route. Robin came over to us as we were chatting and I apologized and we set off again.

Sometimes stress just gets the best of me…thankfully robin is patient.

Once we got back to the building, Robin explained the first part of the route. She explained that she wanted me to work on teaching Rogue to go from barrier to barrier – door, wall, stairs, curb, etc. She told me that by going from barrier to barrier, i will find it easier to keep my bearings.

We walked to a door, then we turned left and walked down a hallway to a wall, then we turned around and walked back a few feet before turning to the stairway on the right. Rogue found the bottom of the stairs perfectly. We then walked down a zzig-zagging hallway to a door where we walked through a breezeway that included a few stairs down – Rogue stopped at the top and we proceeded down towards the door at the other end of the breezeway. We then walked down another hallway to an elevator where we went up. After we got out of the elevator, Robin said that we were looking for the third door on the right, so asked me to have Rogue take me to each door until we found the correct one. She said that by going to each door, I would be able to ensure that I found the correct door because I would have checked each one. I remember seeing a friend do this and wondered why he was wasting so much time, now I get it.

When we entered the third door, we were greeted by a woman who called over a guy who knew both Robin and bill. We chatted with the gentleman and were joined by two other women who began asking me questions about Rogue. It turns out the office was where robin’s son, Andrew, had his office, but he was off doing something, so we didn’t get a chance to say hello.

After we finished talking, we headed out of the office and did some more hallway work and walking from barrier to barrier, with a few stairways thrown into the mix. Rogue did really well, except that at one spot, there were two ramps and then two steps. Rogue walked me down the ramps and then forgot to stop at the top of the stairs, so I danced my way down them, trying to keep my balance. After my heart returned to it’s normal rate, we redid the section, starting at the top of the ramps, Rogue did it perfectly. Robin says that now that Rogue witnessed me almost falling down the steps, she won’t do it again – i really hope she’s right. Even though Rogue scared me to death by not stopping at the top of the stairs, I kept thinking about how dangerous it could have been for her if there had been more steps because I was wearing my over the shoulder leash, so if I had fallen, she would have had no choice but to go with me.

Once we finished working in the building, we walked towards the vehicle, but stopped at the curb where the puddle was, so that I could work with rogue on walking, rather than jumping over or refusing to walk near it. It took some luring, but we got her walking over and even standing in the puddle.

In the evening, we talked a lot about what I had learned and I finished off the tug I was working on. Robin said that I had taught her a valuable lesson about the importance of walking from barrier to barrier. She said that she had been trying to figure out what was going on for days and just came to the realization that I had never been taught this orientation skill. We also talked about some of the issues guide dog programs are currently having and the reasons for some of the problems.

I really hope I can remember everything Robin taught me and I hope to be able to come visit again in a year or two and show her how much improvement rogue and I have made. Robin really feels we are an awesome team and she believes that I could put Rogue beside any program trained dog and she’d shine brighter. I’m not totally sure she’s right, but I do know that I put a lot more work and heart into Rogue’s training compared to what gets put into program trained dogs, so I guess she’s got it there.

Tomorrow we catch our flight from Denver around 4:30pm (their time) and then arrive in Toronto at 9:41pm (our time). I am excited to see Huib again, but I am really looking forward to seeing Cessna and Canyon because it’s been a long 10 days without them.

I hope to post some pictures from our trip this weekend, I just need Huib to let me know if they are oriented correctly.

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.