Saturday, January 26, 2013

Peter Pan Puppy

Disney's Peter Pan

As a repeat puppy raiser, you quickly discover each puppy is uniquely different.  One puppy is serene and laid-back. Another is constantly busy. One is assertive and tries to take charge. Another is happy to be told what to do. One sticks like glue to your side, another wants to explore - far! One pup may never dream of hopping on the couch, the next just knows couches are for him. The bottom line is each puppy teaches you as much as you teach it. What works teaching one puppy may not - often will not - work with another. Each puppy takes you to new heights of puppy raising.

Dorian, my current guide puppy-in-training, is my Peter Pan Puppy. Peter Pan was one of my favorite storybook characters. Wild and free, he never grew up. Peter was happy to stay a boy forever. And just like Peter Pan, my guide pup does not seem to want to grow up. Dorian is curious, playful and full of life. Even as I patiently drill him to be calm and not jump and have good manners and listen to me and the numerous Good Things that a service dog must be, there is a part of him that still insists he wants to be a puppy. 

A shadow image of Peter Pan, standing in the open window of a London house. The city of London is lit up behind him by the full moon.

I am trying to be patient and give Dorian time. I enjoy the sharp sparkle in his eyes, his wild skitters through the house, and the comical way he pounces on his toys just for fun. His zest for life answers a deep call in me to not want to grow up myself! As Peter Pan called to Wendy, Michael and John, so Dorian calls to me. And I love him for that. 

Dorian looking up and grinning.

Gradually, I know, he is growing up inside. As I work him week-by-week I see the subtle changes. For the first time in three weeks, Dorian and I join the therapy dog group and visit a nursing home in Danville. That's when it dawns on me that I am not working as hard to keep him in line. He accepts the distractions of the therapy dogs working nearby in stride, whereas before I had to use all my wiles and skills to stop the curious sniffing and his trying to play "catch up" with them in the halls. I see the glimmer of possibilities of the service dog Dorian will be some day. With only three months left before Dorian goes back, I know time will fly - faster than Peter to Never-Never Land.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Case of the Disappearing Leash

Just when you think you know your puppy and let your guard down, he or she will do something you thought not possible. This can shock you back to the reality of puppy raising. The puppy's act can be a Good Surprise or.....a Bad Surprise.

Such was the case today, when Dorian chewed thru my favorite leather leash in the back seat while we were driving to town. Dorian turned 1 year-old this month. I thought he had left the "chewing leash" phase behind about 100 light years ago. Well, OK, at least 6 months ago. But there was the soggy, sodden area just below the end loop chewed almost clean thru.

Dorian's leather leash where it was repaired and restitched just below the leash loop after he almost chewed thru it. The shoe repairman fixed it the same day.

"Well," I think, "things could be worse!" I recall the time about a year ago when CeCe, my previous guide pup-in-training did not merely chew the leash, she ate it! Incredibly it happened while I was sitting in a restaurant booth with the leash's loop end under my leg. This would have been embarrassing enough except that several other dog-savvy people were present and we had just finished commenting on how "good and quiet" CeCe was under the table, and how mature her behavior was becoming. Finishing my coffee, I rose and tugged on the leash handle. To my surprise there was no weight or resistance. Dangling from my hand was only the tiniest strip of leather still attached to the loop!

I called CeCe out from under the dark cave of the table. Attached to CeCe's collar was the clip and a short 6" piece of leather leash. That piece plus my loop end accounted for about 1 foot. But where was the other 3 feet? Surely under the table somewhere? Yet after a hard search there was no accounting for the rest of the leash. dawned slowly...unless it was inside CeCe.

Leaving the coffee shop, I called my vet, who suggested I give CeCe a dose of hydrogen peroxide. Since I was stuck in town, I went to a nearby pharmacy, bought a bottle and oral syringe, and gave her a dose. In an grassy lot we started walking around and waiting. Sure enough, within 15 minutes, up came her breakfast, along with some white foam and many small pieces of leather. What a huge relief to know the disappearing leash had been recovered! Case closed!

Conclusive evidence in the Case of the Missing Leash:  To the bottom left is a pile of CeCe's barely digested breakfast mixed with foam from the hydrogen peroxide. Notice it is tinged pink from the leather dye. In the upper right corner is the sorted-out pieces of the leather leash. There must be at least 20 pieces, they are uniformly about 1" long and very slimy.

To this day it amazes me the level of stealth CeCe displayed (did not display?) under that table. She pulled off the disappearing leash job inches away from me, the leash-holder, and all those dog people. The joke was on us! In fact every so often, my dog friends still recall that incident. We laugh and shake our heads. So does the waitress at the coffee shop. 

CeCe in the spring of 2012, doing her favorite thing, retrieving her Wubba.

CeCe poses in front of a service dog memorial at the Virginia Tech Veterinary Teaching Hospital in spring, 2012. The sign reads "Ready To Serve." Shortly after this picture was taken, she went back to Southeastern Guide Dogs to finish her training.

She was career-changed in fall, 2012 and now lives with a family in Long Island, New York. CeCe was a challenging puppy to raise but remains my very, very special girl.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Please Don't Pet Me, I'm Working!

Being a puppy raiser, everyone asks about the difficulty of giving up a puppy after nurturing them like your own child. "How can you do it?" they query. A few eye me up and down as if I have the sensitivity of a reptile. Yet honestly, what I struggle with more on a day-to-day basis, is telling people they can't pet the puppy!

The patch sewn on Dorian's guide dog-in-training coat. It is meant to discourage people from petting him. Although it is rather prominently displayed, many people don't notice or read it.


Two puppy raisers with their guide dogs in training, both black Labs. We are exposing the pups to busy streets at a bus stop in downtown Charlotte, NC.

In the background is a working guide dog, a golden retriever, with her owner/handler in the pink shirt. Notice how alert the working guide dog is as she sits at the busy curb. 

You would not want to distract this dog by talking to her or trying to pet her!

I think back on a recent day when I was in Lowe's Building Supplies with 10 month-old Dorian. We are at the check-out counter. Now, Dorian and I have had our moments in the environment of the check-out counter. While I am simultaneously handling my merchandise, doing transactions with cash or credit card, zipping up my mini purse and navigating the shopping cart, Dorian finds this setting offers great potential for Getting Away with Things! But today Dorian is being very good, laying down and staying nicely.

The check-out counter is also a Very Bad Place for starry-eyed lovers of canines to make their advances. Today it is a middle-aged, very tall man, who has just entered the store. Using his most surprised and delighted voice, he immediately calls to Dorian. Dorian, on cue, leaps out of his down/stay, his leash sliding out from under my foot, and trots to the man. To my dismay, as I stand with credit card in hand and my purse wide open, the man invites Dorian to jump on him and then rewards with a vigorous head massage!

Now I have manged to round up my exuberant young charge. My attempts to correct Dorian are pretty feeble, since he really was being good until the man walked in. Meanwhile the man is saying things like "Oh, don't worry, I'm used to dogs jumping on me," and "Dogs just naturally love me." Hmm...this guy could be a poster child demonstrating what not to do when seeing a service dog! Somehow, I am struck speechless. I just can't find the words to explain to him service dog protocol. Meanwhile, the man has had his dog fix and happily saunters off to the hardware aisle.

I mumble an apology to the check-out lady and the people behind me in line. They look sympathetic. As Dorian and I head towards the door I glance down. Yes, it's still there, right across the back of Dorian's blue service cape. A big white patch with red and black lettering, which states, "Please Don't Pet Me, I'm Working."

Here the "Please Don't Pet Me" patch is shown rather prominently on Dorian's coat. It also pictures a hand with a slash through it in the patch's center, in case the person can't read English.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Bed of Roses .... or Battleground?

For Christmas the dogs got an awesome new  bed. Actually the official name is a Kakadu Elevated Pet Cot, with legs which stand several inches off the ground. Stretched tightly across the metal framework is a piece of tough, canvas-like material fastened with Velcro. The canvas can be removed and washed.

Initially we got an extra-large size for $47, which turned out to be spacious enough to hold two Lab-sized dogs comfortably. Only problem is...our living/family room doesn't have a space big enough to hold it, since it's 4 feet long and 3 feet wide! 

Wrangell and Dorian share the extra-large pet cot which was 4' x 3'. It was great for two Labs. Too bad the cot didn't fit our little family room and had to be returned.

Sadly, we returned it and got a size large. This fits nicely in a niche between the couch and the wall. To say the dogs love it is an understatement. Wrangell snores away as if on a bed of roses during the day.  Eventually Wrangell has to get up to eat or go outside or play and Hazel quickly slips in. She is not willing to give it up when Dorian comes over. Her low growls are meant to discourage Dorian but being a 1 year old Lab he doesn't get it and attempts to squeeze in.

Here is Wrangell curled up sleeping on the size large pet cot. He obviously is quite comfortable. In fact, the snore decibel level has definitely gone up lately. This size fits one 70-lb Lab nicely and works better for our small house. He still has to take turns with the other two dogs.

So now we have a battleground - 3 dogs and only one awesome comfy cot. Recently we have ordered a second cot in a size medium ($28) for Hazel. Since she is a little smaller at 55 lbs, she should fit on it nicely and the two big boys can still curl up on it. We think it will be just the right size to fit under the kitchen table against the wall.

Here it is - the new size medium cot which fits nicely under the kitchen table. As you can see Dorian, the 66-lb Lab, just fits but still finds it just fine. Because the cot is so lightweight it is very easy to move around the house.
  We will still have a battleground, I'm guessing. Three dogs and two cots! But they will just have to take turns. There are always the floor blankets....