Snow Labbies

Cessna making paths through really deep snow. She's wearing a red RC Pets winter coat.

Rogue running through snow. She's wearing a lime green and black columbia winter coat.

Double Trouble

Rogue and Cessna are exploring near a 100 foot drop. Rogue is wearing a lime green and black columbia winter coat with her chocolate brown collar with: Wet Nose, Cold Heart, written in teal. Cessna is wearing a red and black RC Pets winter coat. You can also see the tops of the trees that are growing in the ravine.

Good Thing They Decided Against Jumping

Outward Hound Back Pack

Rogue wearing her teal and grey Outward Hound back pack. It's a side view of her, so she's turned to look at the camera and you can see a blur where her tail should be. She has her Silverfoot martingale on and there is a black guide handle attached to a little silver carabeaner.

Impossible Perfection

This post is for the 10th round of the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival.

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival button

About two years ago, I began researching Labrador Retriever breeders in Ontario. I had learned that Cessna, my current program trained guide dog, had developed tiny cataracts, so had made the decision to “take the plunge” and owner-train her successor. The vet wasn’t sure if Cessna’s cataracts would grow and how long she would be able to work, so I decided then and there that we would need to begin our search for the right “Future Guide Dog Hopeful”.

It took about two months for us to settle upon a breeder, Red Labrador Retrievers, and about a month more before the litter that contained my little caramel firecracker was born.

On June 10th, 2011, RLR’s Babe In Total Control or Rogue for short, entered our family. From the start I just knew I had made the correct selection. Rogue was confident. Rogue was busy. And most important to me, Rogue was independent-minded.

Over the past year and a half rogue and I have had our challenges. I have tried to make sure she obtains all of the exposures, socialization opportunities and challenges needed to give her a proper start on her journey to becoming a guide dog, but the road has not always been smooth. Many people would probably look back at our challenges and suggest that I wash her from training and return to Dog Guides, but we’re not yet ready to quit.

Our first real obstacle came when rogue turned 7 months. It was like someone had turned a switch. rogue was no longer feeling confident in public. She was backing away from people who wanted to greet her. She was hiding behind our legs and peaking out to see if the person had left. She wouldn’t come out when the person squatted and started calling her in an excited voice. She wouldn’t even come out when we had them hold out some treats. Sometimes she’d also begin barking at them when she was backing away, or bark at random people passing our table in coffee shops or walking past us in the grocery store. We were not ready for this sort of reaction, but knew it must be some part of her normal puppy development. I also knew that one of her half siblings had been washed from autism service dog training for shyness, so I knew it was possible she could face the same fate if we weren’t able to work with her through this issue.

We decided the best thing to do initially was to take a few weeks break from training all together. rogue was spayed, so needed a week to heal and I also felt as though she needed some time to just be a dog. After the three weeks were over, we started taking Rogue on short trips into town for lunch or coffee. If she barked at anyone, we said “quiet” and then asked the person, if they hadn’t run off, if they wouldn’t mind offering her a piece of hot dog. Rogue was better with some people than others. We couldn’t figure out a pattern, so just worked with what we had. If she didn’t immediately shy away from the person offering her the treat, we’d push her a little further and see if she would allow them to give her attention. We did this for about three or four months before we noticed she was no longer barking at random people and shying away from their greetings. We didn’t always stick to our short outings of course, taking her to run errands and for totally new exposures, but I think being patient and rewarding her for being quiet and greeting politely was what helped Rogue regain her confidence.

Our next real challenge didn’t show itself until November. Don’t get me wrong, Rogue’s training hasn’t gone completely flawless, but it wasn’t until November that we were confronted with a problem I didn’t see a way around. Since last Christmas, Rogue has been wearing the Active Dogs padded harness vest along with the Premier Easy Walk Harness. I thought she was comfortable with the equipment, but then a friend pointed out issues with her body posture and the way she was holding her head. Huib started to pay more attention to this and said that he felt Rogue may be uncomfortable with either being in public or the equipment she was wearing. I decided it was time to work more seriously on loose leash walking in public (I’d been working on it with rogue in the house for months). Rogue had always been ducking the opening to her vest when I would go to put it on so I didn’t think that was an issue, but felt that maybe she was reacting to the feel of the Easy walk. We stopped using it and were introduced to the fact that Rogue has a soft trachea. Back in May Rogue had made us suspicious of this possibility when she had 48 hours of reverse sneezing episodes, but with the use of the Easy walk, we didn’t really understand how bad the problem was. After speaking to a friend who knows a great deal about the condition, we switched Rogue from a regular nylon flat collar to a martingale. Similar to her ducking of the vest opening, she was ducking my efforts to put her nose through the opening of the martingale. It was the introduction of the martingale that brought us to the realization that Rogue was not only reacting to the feel of the Easy Walk, but that she was also upset about the gear in general.

I was at a loss.

I was convinced that I would now have to wash my girl.

I didn’t see how I could possibly get her comfortable with wearing a martingale and guide harness.

After days of e-mailing back and forth with friends and talking to Huib, it was decided that we should try finding gear that didn’t require Rogue to put her head in to put on. I also decided to take another break from training and just focus on what Rogue already knew. First, we found martingales that opened up like a nylon flat collar on the Silverfoot website. Then I came across a doggie back pack we had purchased in the summer for Canyon. I asked Huib if it would be possible to modify it, so that Rogue could wear it for guiding, he didn’t see why not. I ordered the new martingales and Huib got to work on converting Canyon’s Outward Hound back pack into a guide harness.

It has been about a month since we started using the new martingales and Outward Hound back pack. Rogue’s attitude and body posture in public has changed drastically! She’s happy to be out and even tries to seek out the attention of random strangers – something I’ll need to now work on, but it’s a place to start. the martingales also seem to eliminate the coughing and gagging when we’re not paying close enough attention and rogue happens to get to the end of her leash.

Some people may look at the challenges I’ve faced and suggest it is time to cut my losses and accept the fact that Rogue may never become a guide dog, but we’ve overcome things so far and I’m not ready to throw in the towel.

Some people may look at our challenges and say that Rogue isn’t an acceptable guide dog candidate, but I’m not ready to give up on her. If I had given up on Cessna so easily, I would have missed out on eight amazing years of partnership with an amazing teacher.

Some people may look at my lack of training knowledge and suggest training rogue is too big a job for me to do on my own, but I’m not ready to agree. Rogue and I have gotten this far with my trial and error style of training, so I don’t think it’s time to stop moving forward.

Rogue may never be a “perfect” guide dog, but am I a “perfect” trainer? Were Phoenix and Cessna “perfect” guide dogs? Is anyone “perfect”?

The only answer I can give is that Rogue has been a patient learner and I think she’ll make the “perfect” guide dog for me.

Rogue stands in the snow wearing Muttlucks. She's wearing two different colour boots, royal blue ones on the front and hunter green ones on the back. The cuffs of the boots are full of snow after running through drifts, so it looks as though she has swollen ankles. She has a big smile on her face because she's in the middle of a game of fetch.

Naughty Or Nice?

Rogue sits between two large Pointsettias wearing her teal Active Dogs vest and Silverfoot collar and leash with various shades of blue on it.  She's looking towards the camera winking.

Labradorables

Cessna and Rogue lie on the couch together. Cessna is curled up in a ball and Rogue is curled next to her with her head along her hind end.

The Working Beauties

Cessna lies in front of limestone columns.  She is wearing her black leather CVC guide harness, a baby blue martingale collar with various coloured bugs and a black leather leash that is partially braided.

Rogue stands in front of limestone columns.  She is wearing her teal Active Dogs vest with her Silverfoot collar and leash that are different shades of blue.

A Rogue Fall

Rogue walks among fallen trees wearing her new, black with teal and white sort of flowers, RC Pets coat.

Rogue stands on a tree stump looking over her right shoulder into the camera.

It’s getting a little chillier these days, so Rogue finds it nicer to explore the outdoors wearing her new winter coat.

Not Like Most

“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

This well-known saying, is one I’ve heard regularly over my thirty-two years of life.

Time and time again, people are telling me not to change things if they work.

Most people would listen to the advice, but I’m not like most..

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival buttonI received three wonderful guides from The Lions Foundation of canada Dog Guides. Gryphon only worked nine months because of an unfortunate incident with a car, but Phoenix worked seven years and Cessna will retire after eight.

Given this record, most people would be planning to return for a fourth, but I’m not like most.

As many friends and readers of this blog already know, instead of returning to Dog Guides for my fourth guide, I have decided to give owner-training a try.

Most people would look for a puppy who is calm, confident and shows an eagerness to please, but I am not like most.

Rogue is confident, but instead of being calm and eager to please, she is busy and independent-minded.

Most people would rather not spend the time and money raising a puppy, and would rather have a guide who is fully trained and ready to take on the challenges of guiding a blind person.

Not me, I’m not like most.

I look forward to the challenge of raising and training Cessna’s successor. I enjoy the obstacles Rogue places before me, and believe that her spirited nature makes me a better person and subsequently a better trainer. Together, Rogue and I approach problems with enthusiasm, because I know she’ll forgive me for my faults, and she knows I’ll forgive her for her mistakes.

Most people want a service dog who will perform their tasks when they are asked to do so.

Not me, I’m not like most.

I like dogs who have a mind of their own. I don’t want a dog who will go into robot mode and work the second I pick up the harness handle. I want a dog who will question me, and who will make me work for their respect.

We all have our hopes and dreams regarding what a service dog will bring to our lives. some hope for miracles, but others just hope they can make the partnership work.

When I applied for my first guide, I looked forward to getting rid of my white cane, and to the opportunity to share my experiences with another. I was young and full of dreams, but I knew from the start that I needed a dog who would challenge me, and who would force me to go outside of my comfort zone to make our partnership work.

Phoenix worked well and challenged me almost daily. If he wanted to do something and i didn’t allow it, he’d plan his revenge and I never knew when it would come. In order to keep his work at its best, I not only had to practice his basic obedience a few times a week, but also had to make trips into bigger cities for him to feel challenged as well.

“Marchin’ To Your Own Drum” is something most service dog handlers do, but for some, it is something we take to heart because we’re not like most.

On The Road Again

This past weekend we took the dogs south. I had to see the doctor for some medication refills and to touch base on what the neurologist had suggested for migraine relief, so we also made a vet appointment and planned to visit friends in Toronto.

the vet visit went well. Everyone was checked over thoroughly and then had blood withdrawn for Heartworm and tick borne disease testing. Dr B gave the labs their rabies vaccine and then prepared homeopathic remedies for both of the goldens. Aspen’s remedy is supposed to help her with anxiety and possible pain, since Dr B feels she needs some chiropractic adjustment. Back in the spring last year, Canyon ran full speed into Aspen, sending her flying, so now she seems to be out of alignment and Dr B would like us to take her for adjustments the next time we are in the area. I honestly never thought I’d be taking my dog to a chiropractor but I also couldn’t imagine ignoring Aspen’s possible discomfort.

After the vet appointment, we drove to Ren’s to see our friend Kelly and do a little shopping. We often stay with Kelly during our visits south, but she is currently fostering a dog from Aussie Rescue that is not too dog friendly, so visiting her at home wasn’t really an option. At Ren’s we chatted briefly with Kelly and bought Canyon a new toy – it’s like a cuz, but is all holey and has a water bottle crunched up inside it – as well as some blueberry treats and some kitty Greenies.

We then set off for Toronto and stayed with Taz and Caleb for the weekend.

On Saturday we drove to Newmarket to buy some new running shoes for Huib and then to Aurora to plant some flowers at my Mom’s grave. A few years ago, Huib and I created a little garden in front of her gravestone and try to plant flowers each summer. After we were done, we set off for Etobicoke and took Phoenix’s foster family for dinner at Swiss Chalet. Ray and Alice are doing well. Alice no longer needs a wheelchair and just uses her walker to get around. It’s so amazing to see the progress she has made since her stroke three years ago.

sunday was Woofstock. We drove the Orlando downtown and then parked it in the Metro’s underground parking lot. We thought we’d park there so that the dogs could have a safe place to rest if they became too overheated or tired.

Look who else came…

It’s Rogue’s sister Ruby!

Ruby is a little bigger than Rogue and has slightly longer and darker fur. She is absolutely adorable though, just like her sister. I can’t wait to have the girls meet in a less chaotic environment though because similar to Rogue (at times) Ruby was a bit timid and subdued, so it will be neat to see her in her own environment.

Woofstock was great, there were tons of different vendors and organizations to see. We got various treats and bought life jackets for the girls and winter coats for the labs. the life jackets are red with black and the winter coats are purple and bluish purple. I really wanted to get them each a cooling coat (it feels like a shammy and you cover it in water to keep the dogs cool) but they were over a hundred dollars, so we will need to wait on that.

Time to cool off…

By the end of our trip, the dogs were completely exhausted! they all piled into the Orlando and we didn’t hear from them until we arrived in Huntsville a few hours later.