If It Weren’t For The Internet

This entry is for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival being hosted by Frida Writes.

Sometimes we need a friend. Someone to bounce ideas off. Someone to talk to when we’re unsure. someone to share our accomplishments with. someone to tell us we’re doing okay.

For me, this support has come from the internet.

If it weren’t for Twitter, blogging and Facebook, I’m not sure Cessna and I would have succeeded, or I would have gotten as far as I have in preparing Rogue for her future job of guide dog.

It is through Twitter and bloging, that I met others who have gone through similar experiences with their guide dogs, and others who have raised and trained their own service dogs. It is through Facebook and instant messaging, that I have been able to keep in close contact with old and new friends to talk about the ups and downs of work with Cessna, and training with Rogue.

When I received Cessna, almost eight years ago, i had no clue what I had gotten myself into. Cessna was not my first guide dog, or even my first guide from her school, she was my third, but she was the youngest and the most difficult. Cessna was an 18 month old, squirrel chaser, who had emotional scars from training and who knew the guide commands, but I’m convince, had no clue what to do with them. we struggled for over a year and a half, trying to understand one another, and getting nowhere fast. But, I had friends who listened to my worries, who listened to my thoughts, and who provided words of encouragement at the right moments in time. some friends were just a city away, but others were a couple provinces away, so Facebook, email and instant messaging were a big reason why Cessna and I succeeded.

A huge turning point for Cessna and I came when I decided to google service dog programs in my area. I had just finished my social work degree, and wanted to see if there was a small service dog program that would appreciate my social work skills on a volunteer basis. this is how I learned about K-9 Helpers, and began learning about clicker training. Cessna and I had been together for about two years, but it wasn’t until I started taking classes with Dogs In The Park, that we truly began to understand one another and Cessna’s emotional scars from training began to really heal. the primary trainer at Dogs In The Park was in charge of training the psychiatric service dogs for K-9 Helpers, so when I began volunteering, she offered to work with us.

the internet played such a vital role in helping Cessna and I become the dream team, and it has not failed me with rogue either. when I began thinking about raising and training Cessna’s successor, I was met with many questions and concerns from family members. through blogging about my issues, and tweeting about my thoughts, I met people who had and who were going through similar experiences. I met people with all sorts of disabilities that had overcome the odds and were successfully working with canine partners, they had raised and trained themselves. Over the past two years, rogue and I have encountered many obstacles, but our internet friends and blogging family have helped us defy expectations.

through the internet, I have met amazing people and made forever friends.

They listen to my thoughts. They listen to my worries. they share in my excitement. They feel for my losses. and they provide words of encouragement and wisdom at just the right moment.

If it weren’t for the internet. If it weren’t for our virtual friends and family. I’m pretty certain, Cessna and I wouldn’t have become a dream team, and Rogue would not be on the path to becoming my future partner in crime.

It’s Hurricane rogue’s Birthday!!!

guess what???

today is my birthday!!!

Today I am TWO!!!

I can’t believe it…I’ve been alive for twenty-four whole months now!!!

can you??

Let me tell you all about what I can now do…

I can guide Mommy through hallways;

I can guide Mommy around obstacles to my left;

I can stop at curbs;

I can find doors;

I can walk nicely at Mommy’s side (when there isn’t too much going on around us);

I can leave treats alone that Mommy drops on the floor;

I can stay in a sit or down for 10 whole seconds, while Mommy stands 4 feet away;

I can give her my attention (our version of eye contact) by touching my nose to the side of her left leg;

And, I can close cupboard doors and drawers.

I’ve learned so much in the two years I’ve been alive, so I think it’s time for a party, don’t you???

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

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.