Barn Hunt

Saturday, Huib, rogue and I went to a Barn Hunt workshop. Rogue’s breeder had mentioned the workshop on her Facebook page and asked if anyone wanted to join. Three families, including us, came out. In total, there were eight dogs from Red Labrador Retrievers present.

Karen and Chris (Rogue’s breeders) brought three females, including Rogue’s dam, cheyenne. It was so cool to see Rogue and Cheyenne together. they are quite similar in size, Cheyenne is just a bit heavier and has a little different face. their personalities are also quite similar, cheyenne was very excited to be around the other dogs, and barked at random times – just like her daughter. Huib tried to get a good picture of the two together, but neither one wanted to cooperate, lol!

Side views of Rogue with her dam, Cheyenne. To the left is Rogue and to the right and behind is Cheyenne.

Our day started with a short introduction to Barn Hunt, including a discussion of the rules and regulations. We were then split into groups of 5, and sent through the various stations.

at station one, the dogs were shown an aquarium with a couple of rats inside. We were told to tell our dogs to “find the rats” or whatever words we wanted to use. We were asked to encourage our dogs and show them where the rats were located.

Athena, a one year old female from Red Labrador Retrievers sees the rat in the aquarium. she's very interested in them.

Similar to her dam, rogue was interested in the aquarium, but more into the smells, than the actual rats.

Chris, Rogue's breeder, and Cheyenne, Rogue's dam, checking out a rat. Cheyenne isn't overly interested, so the woman has taken a rat out of the aquarium to get her attention.

At the next station, the dogs were introduced to a plastic tube containing a rat.

Chris, Rogue's breeder, with Sedona, a 6 month old puppy from Red Labrador Retrievers. Chris is pointing to the tube holding the rat, while Sedona looks at him curiously.

We were again instructed to tell our dogs to “find the rat”, and encourage them to get excited about the tube.

rogue was pretty excited about the tube, she nosed the tube and rolled it around.

at station three, the dogs were shown two tubes, one containing a rat and the other containing soiled litter from a rat’s cage.

rogue checked both tubes out very thoroughly, but seemed a bit more interested in the one containing the rat.

Rogue finding the tube containing the rat, and leaving the other one alone.

at station four, two tubes were hidden beside a bale of hay, one containing the rat and the other containing soiled litter. We were instructed to encourage our dogs to search and to let the “judge” know which we felt our dog was saying the rat was in.

rogue checked out both tubes thoroughly and seemed to indicate one over the other, but maybe Huib read her wrong, because he said it was the tube containing soiled litter. the “judge” then picked up the one containing the rat and had us show it to her, so she could check it out more.

Rogue is sniffing a tube containing a rat with her paw on top of the tube.

the final station gave us a chance to work on our own with having our dogs go through a tunnel made of hay and a tube containing a rat. we were instructed to have our dogs run through the tunnel and “find the rat”.

Rogue had a lot of fun running through the tunnel to the rat.

After lunch, we each had an opportunity to do the Barn Hunt instinct test.

each dog was asked to find the tube containing the rat in under a minute.

Chris and Sedona at the mock instinct test. Chris is about to release Sedona, so she can search for the tube containing the rat.

Of the eight dogs from Red Labrador Retrievers, only three passed the instinct test. Athena did the test in 32 seconds, Cheyenne did it in 59, and rogue did it in just 25!

The woman who ran the Barn Hunt workshop said she would be setting up a Barn Hunt trial in the summer, so I think we’ll watch for the date and see how rogue does.

Two Weeks In guelph

I had meant to write an update on Wednesday, but time got away from me. We’ve now been in our new home for two and a half weeks.

The past week and a half have been busy. We’ve unpacked more boxes and moved some furniture around. We’ve taken the labs on training trips. We’ve gotten together with Kelly and her pack twice. And we’ve taken all three dogs for hikes and a swim.

Last Sunday, we drove to Aurora to plant some flowers at my Mom’s grave. Mother’s Day has always been a tough day for me since Mom’s passing, but this year seemed easier. dad came with us, and I think seeing how happy he was helping Huib plant the flowers at Mom’s grave, really helped. After we were done, we drove to Sutton to see if my Aunt Dawn was around. her house was unlocked, so Huib called her cell phone and found out she was visiting her friend nearby. We drove over there and had a great time visiting. Aunt Dawn’s friend has several foster children, as well as, two male golden retrievers, two love birds and a 9 month old male pot belly pig. she told us to bring the dogs in with us, so we brought them in slowly. Canyon was initially interested in the pig, but quickly lost interest and settled at my feet, but Ruben, one of the goldens (Jack was away with her daughter tree planting) was a little too interested in him. Ruben kept licking Canyon’s face and ears, so just before we left, Huib took him and Rogue back to the car, so he could have a rest. The labs had to stay on leash because they were really interested in the birds and wouldn’t stop trying to sniff Poomba it was a good experience for Rogue though, she had never met a pig, let alone one that lives in a house.

Rogue and I have started doing some sidewalk guiding. She’s still hating the guide handle, but once she has it on for a while, she stops moping. I’ve been getting Cessna dressed and then her dressed, then walking around the house with Cessna, talking to her and giving her treats for being such a good girl, in an effort to make rogue jealous. It actually seems to be working. Rogue is taking less and less time to break free of the “roots” holding her in place when she first gets her vest and guide handle on. We’ve done some forward walking on the sidewalk, and other than her pull being excessive and her wanting to stay close to the grass on her side, she’s doing well. she is keeping me well away from the sidewalk edge and is quite responsive to my cues. this week, I hope to start her curb work, but it all depends upon her mood and the weather.

On Wednesday, Kelly, her boyfriend Josh, and their two Australian Shepherds, Piper and Baron, came to visit. the four of us, along with rogue and the Aussies, went over to the park across the road to do some group obedience. Josh was having a bit of a rough day, so he worked on keeping Baron’s attention and keeping him under threshold, while Kelly and I worked on getting the girls (Rogue and Piper) to perform their various obedience cues. Rogue was a little distracted by the smells and scenery, but overall, I think she did pretty well. I had her wear her new teal Kong harness, since I felt it was a good opportunity to work on her “pet” manners.

I bought Rogue the Kong harness so that she can wear it on leisure walks. I don’t want her to pull on her collar, and the Easy Walk harness seems to have caused some unforeseen issues. the Kong harness has a ring on the back that the leash attaches to and padding on the chest area, so Rogue finds it a bit too comfortable to pull. I’m going to work on her Level 1 behaviours, and start teaching her loose leash walking with it. I wanted to get her another front attach harness, but the only one I can find is the Easy Walk and I think the way it fit and the way it worked, may have caused Rogue discomfort and long-lasting issues with it. We’ve worked hard on getting her to feel okay with putting pressure into the chest strap of her Har-Vest, so I don’t want to go back to the beginning there.

On Thursday, Huib and I took the three dogs over to the park across the road to play frisbee. Canyon really likes frisbee, so we thought he’d enjoy running for it on the soccer field. He ran for it a few times, and then got distracted by another dog and ran over to check it out, ignoring our calls. Huib ran after him and noticed that it wasn’t actually the dog he was running to, it was a swampy pond he had seen. Canyon saw Huib coming, but totally ignored him and laid down in the muddy water – bad boy! Rogue had followed him, but did not get into the water – both youngsters were put back on leash and had to watch Cessna play frisbee on her own. Cessna thought it was awesome to be playing frisbee while the others were stuck on leash. After Cessna had had enough, we put her back on leash and then started walking along the gravel path that leads around the swampy pond (the water from the rain gutters collects there). I think that once Cessna and I do the route a few more times with Huib, we’ll be able to walk it on our own.

On Friday, we met up with a friend for lunch at Eastside Mario’s. I met Evelyn during my time at the University of Guelph. I had been a volunteer and then Co-ordinator for their Safe Walk Program, and Evelyn was a dispatcher for the University of Guelph Police. I’m not sure how we got talking, but when I used to live in Guelph, evelyn and I would get together for lunch once a month, so now that I’m back, we’re going to try doing that again.

When we had arrived at Eastside’s Huib went to park and the orlando stalled on him twice. we have had this happen a couple of times before, but they were never this frequent, so Huib became concerned. When we were done lunch, I asked evelyn if she’d mind following us over to the GM dealership, and of course, she said no problem. When we got back into the car, Huib saw that the engine light had come on, so we knew something was up. At the dealership, the woman at the counter told us they had no appointments, but Huib asked if they could at least run a diagnostics to see if it was safe for him to continue driving (since it was Friday), she said it might just take a bit. We took the labs into the waiting room and I did some obedience with Rogue – I try to do this in all places, so she learns to follow my cues everywhere. About 30 minutes later, we heard our names over the intercom and were told that the orlando was ready. They had replaced a valve.

While we had been waiting, I received a text from kelly asking if we wanted to meet her and Ace (her 4 year old male black lab) for a hike and swim. We met them at an old quarry near our former condo building. the dogs ran ahead, while we chatted. At the end of the long path, there’s a river that used to have a bridge over it, but the city must have taken the bridge down, so we let the dogs play there. A woman and her young male italian Mastiff were there as well, so we were a bit more cautious with allowing Canyon to roam. the other dog was intact, and seemed to be paying a little too much attention to Canyon, so Huib called Canyon over for some treats and waited until the woman and her dog were gone, before releasing him again. After about half an hour of swimming, we started walking back towards the vehicles. Kelly and Ace had to get back home to let the Aussies out, but we stayed behind and let our three swim in the quarry. Canyon was hilarious. He kept running along the shore to find the shortest route to the toy, while Cessna swam out to retrieve it. Once she made her way back to the shore, Canyon would meet her and bring the toy back to us as though he had been the one to do all the work. Just before we left, a woman and her female golden retriever showed up. the golden was really interested in our toy, so Huib threw it a few times for her to retrieve – the other woman hadn’t brought any toys for her.

this weekend we haven’t done too much. the weather is warm and starting to get a hint of humidity, so I play short games of fetch with Canyon in the backyard, but try to stay cool indoors otherwise. My migraines seem to be better living here. Maybe it’s because I am able to stay cooler, dad doesn’t have access to a wood stove, or maybe the weather is just more stable right now – either way, it’s nice not having to take extra meds.

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.