Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dorian's Early Progress at Guide Dog U

On April 20th my family said goodbye to Dorian at Southeastern Guide Dogs. Dorian trotted off with a trainer to start a brand new phase - the work of training to be a guide dog. That was 10 weeks ago.

Little by little, news about Dorian has trickled in. First, posted on Facebook were a couple of wonderful pictures of him with room mates at the Assessment Kennel. They all looked like a bunch of college kids having a grand time. Later I got the finding on his hips and elbows (excellent and normal). That was a relief! Then the news he and the rest of his college buddies were making the move to the Training Kennel. Next came his first Training Report (hooray!) and just a few days ago, Dorian's harness picture came in the mail. These info-morsels and tidbits are like food to my starving PR soul, I quickly gobble them up and wish for more. But the school is understandably busy with the business of training guide dogs. Puppy raisers must learn patience. Nevertheless I really appreciate the mentioned updates and pictures from my Area Coordinator and the staff at the school. THANK-YOU so much Southeastern Guide Dogs!

Below you can see some of Dorian's progress at the school. He has gone from freshman at the Assessment Kennel to sophomore at the Training Kennel. So far, so good...!

Dorian (L) with brother and roomie Holden (R) at the Assessment Kennel in April. This picture and the one below were posted on the PR Facebook page by Katie, one of the staff.

From left:  Dorian and Holden (top) with Lalo, Holly and Pax. Holden and Pax are Dorian's brothers. Picture taken in late May just before their move to the Training Kennel. 

Below is the comment section on his first Training Report. He is in Phase 1 - learning curbs, straight line walking, accepting the harness and turns:

COMMENTS- Dori is coming along very nicely through his training, and he is very smart! He has learned very quickly that the clicker means he gets a treat, and does not mind working for the food as training progresses. Dori loves playing out in the field with his buddies in the yard, and he has good social skills as well. 

That's my Dori! I can certainly verify as his raiser Dorian does not mind working for food. I can also verify the part about Dorian's social skills. Dorian could charm the Statue of Liberty's dog into loosening up and playing with him. 

Dorian's official harness photo. He looks so mature and dignified - is this the goofball I raised?

So Dorian is doing well...and I have a new service pup to keep me busy (a huge understatement). We really are having a good time together. But that doesn't mean I don't get choked up when I come across one of Dorian's battered toys, or visit one of our old haunts. Puppy raisers out there probably know what I mean. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Part Bear Cub, Part Fish - All Labrador Retriever

I have had Piper a good month now, and as a repeat puppy-raiser you can't help but compare your current puppy to past ones. Several things stand out about Piper:

Piper is Part Bear-Cub. Sometimes when Piper gets excited, I look down and see not a sweet, cuddly puppy, but something more akin to a furry black baby carnivore pulled out of his den by the scruff of the neck. Lips pulled back, needle-sharp teeth bared, emitting play growls, whites of his eyes showing, hunched into a little ball of bear-cub fearsomeness. Wow, am I ready for this? Rather than put on leather gloves and play "Who Is the Biggest, Baddest Dude - Me or You?" I try to wait him out until he calms down. If that doesn't work, I simply and unceremoniously pop him in his crate. A short time-out does wonders for his bear-cub spells - they disappear. As the weeks progress, the bear cub episodes are starting to fade away.

In contrast, his incessant mouthing has been daunting to correct. Although he has mostly stopped mouthing me, he does gnaw on everyone else. Meeting people invariably ends with their fingers in his mouth and comments (nice or otherwise) such as, "My, his teeth are sharp!" Children are more to the point. "He bit me!" I ask them to pet his back half instead, but that is not as interesting, and they soon gravitate back to his head...and the mouthing starts again and I have to be referee. Now I am trying a new tack, where I offer people a toy to offer Piper - Piper can gnaw on that instead of their tender fingers.

Piper is Part Fish. I have had pups that loved the water and pups that didn't even like to get their paws wet. But I've never had a puppy at 8 or 9 weeks who would dive head-first into the horse trough, completely submerging, blowing bubbles and spluttering to the surface, only to scramble out, shake off and want to dive back in again! Since he's started doing this I make sure to keep the trough only partway full. CPR is not something I want to do on my puppy if I can help it. With all water containers, his muzzle is constantly underwater, blowing bubbles. It is as natural to him as breathing.

Piper is All Labrador Retriever (emphasis on retriever). Piper is hard-wired to retrieve. I did not have to teach him. An object is thrown and Piper naturally retrieves it for me. Even as a chunky puppy he did it with such eagerness and pure joy, it was as if he had discovered The Zone. I encourage this but keep the games short and on my schedule. I have added the words "Get It", "Piper, Here", and "Give" to start teaching him cues that go with retrieve. Retrieving will serve him well as a service dog, as one of their biggest jobs can be fetching objects for their person.

All that said, with the challenges, interruptions, frustrations and surprises, Piper is a wonderful, affectionate puppy with a keen mind that learns as naturally as he retrieves and blows bubbles underwater. I am looking forward to our journey together down the Puppy-Raiser Road, with all its bumps, twists and turns, valleys and hilltops. One thing is for certain though, I don't expect many flat, boring sections along the way!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Stop Right There!!!

What is it about puppies that draws us - like moths to a flame, like flies to honey, like iron to a magnet?

Last Sunday I made the command decision to take 10-week Piper to church. With much thought and deliberation, my strategy was laid out. I would not take him into the main service (Piper can bark with such a shrill note it sends shivers up your spine). I would not linger in the foyer, where my sweet and very well-meaning church friends would engage me in indefinitely long puppy conversations. No, with tunnel vision we would quickly stride through the foyer, and down the hall to the very end where I usually help with the kids.

Like any good strategist, I was properly prepared and armed. Piper had recently relieved himself and now had his little service jacket on. He was in my arms. My tote-bag of supplies included a blankie, various toys of different textures from chewy to prickly to fuzzy, clean up supplies, some treats, AND my secret weapon, the rawhide chew, approved by St Francis Service school.

At the very end of the hall is Kingdom Kids, a big colorful room with a stage and long benches of different heights for children small and tall. This summer all the regular church kids, from pre-school thru middle school, are meeting here for one hour Sunday morning to practice a play. The play is a musical with lots of singing, some dancing and quite a bit of loudish music.

Piper sports his new service vest at 10 weeks.
Slightly late and with Piper-in-arms, I walk into the kids' room. The children's director, facing the door, sees me enter first and her face spontaneously lights up with that delight that puppies elicit when they enter a room. The children, all seated on the benches with their backs to the door, in unison turn around. As one they start to rise with a collective, longing sigh - "Awwwww!"

But thankfully, a puppy love-fest was not in the making. With an amazing command of Children-ese, the director snaps them back to reality. "Stop Right There!!!" she says in her most authoritative tone. The children freeze. "Remember, this is a service dog, just like the last one that used to come here. He is being trained to help people. You cannot pet him and Stay in Your Seats!" As one, with a small groan, the children sink down on their benches. I mouth a "Thank-you" to her and proceed to settle little Piper well over to the side. Piper was very good and quiet and took all the noise, clapping and squirmy kids in stride. He was busy with his toys and chews. As if he were a movie-goer more interested in his popcorn, he would occasionally glance up to see what was on the screen. Later he sprawled belly down on the cool linoleum and rested.

As the play proceeded the director blocked out where each child should stand or move. During the lulls, an occasional child would look over longingly at Piper. One little boy softly said, "That sure is a nice puppy." I smiled and winked. After the hour was up, I let a few say hello, but very soon I had Piper whisked away, down the hall, past the busy entryway and out to the parking lot. He was in good spirits.

It was a successful outing. As the trainers say, set them up for success. Next week I plan to bring Piper again. After all, I am the stage manager and need to gradually get him squared away, so I can actually start helping with the play again. Piper and I will go it "One Step at a Time", which is one of my PR mottoes. Another one, adopted from Search and Rescue is  "Semper Gumby", meaning...Be Flexible!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hmm, Piper...? I Don't See You In Our System.....

Piper says, "The vets' can't seem to find my file, so guess I'll just sit here on the counter and wait."

In the end, the vets' office had the St Francis school fax the info again, so Piper is now in their system.
Gaining more than 1 pound per week, 10 week-old Piper now weighs 14.5 lbs. Grow, grow, grow!