Megan Minkiewicz

Megan Minkiewicz has raised six puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Over the next year and a half, she'll write about her adventures as a volunteer puppy raiser for The Bark blog. She lives in Bend, Ore., with her husband Alex, a Quarter Horse named Chip, and a one-eyed goldfish named Flobie and Caleb.

News: Guest Posts
A Career Change for Caleb
A transition for our family

Well, I really did not anticipate I’d be using the words career change; in fact, I delayed writing this post just to avoid it. I take it very hard when one of my dogs is dropped; I feel for a second that I failed as a guide dog puppy raiser. For 13 months Caleb and I have been a team and to an outsider we look like we know what we’re doing. But truth be told, Caleb made the decision he does not want to be a working guide dog. Not all dogs are up to the task, and clearly Caleb has a different agenda and that’s okay too.

Over the last few months we have been working on and have made great improvements in his dog distractions; however, his nemesis continues to be small dogs. He just finds them too interesting and he wants to play with them. I get it: dogs are social animals and who doesn’t want to visit with every friendly face they meet? Caleb has not failed in my eyes; he’s made a conscious career decision.

No doubt, we have really enjoyed raising Caleb. He fit well into our lifestyle, enjoys all sorts of adventure and loves to snuggle—the most important quality of all. But we are not keeping him as a pet. I am just not there yet and I don’t know that I will ever be. I fall in love with every dog I meet and I think it would be amazing to have a ranch full of senior dogs that I could spoil into their golden years, but the loss of Noah still hurts too much to consider having a pet dog. I suppose that’s what makes me a good candidate to raise guide dog puppies: I can give up a puppy even after a year together.

Don’t get me wrong; there have already been lots of tears over the anticipated good-byes. I adore Caleb, and he’ll always hold a very special place in my heart. He proved to be such an accommodating and easygoing companion on road trips, vacations and business travel that I will really miss him tagging along. But he is going to be a very happy camper in his new digs, and for the next few days we are assisting in Caleb’s transition to being a pet.

He’s sleeping on the couch next to me now, a novel experience he’s grown very used to in just 48 hours. He is enjoying a whole new world of previously off-limits toys and treats! On the flip side, he’s no longer going to be available as my movie date and I had to go grocery shopping alone today. But if the trade-off is sleeping on the couch, I know what gets Caleb’s vote.

We have the great fortune of a long list of family and friends waiting to adopt a career-change dog and among them was a perfect family for Caleb. He will be living a lifestyle very similar to the one he’s grown up in and we will be able to visit him as often as possible.

The opportunity to share Caleb’s story with a new legion of fans has been wonderful and rewarding. For the first time in six puppies, I actually have a record of our time together and I thank The Bark for giving me that. Perhaps out of this someone will raise a guide dog puppy, become a breeder dog custodian, adopt a career-change dog, or visit one of the Guide Dogs for the Blind campuses and/or choose to support their work. While I will not have the opportunity to share with you stories of Caleb’s progress through formal training or his partnering with a vision-impaired person, there is always the next puppy in training! On January 27, we’ll meet our next puppy and begin all over again.

News: Guest Posts
Guide Dog Puppy-Raiser Asks, “A Year Already?”
Thirteen months and countless miles later

As I type this, we’re waiting for our flight home after a good but long week traveling. Caleb’s fast asleep at my feet, having grown very used to the San Francisco International Airport, and I have no worries about traveling with him. In fact, I’ve got no concerns about his ability to become a guide dog if that’s his chosen path.

Recently, I re-read each of the blogs I’ve written for this series. What I found most interesting was how the tone evolved. In the beginning, I saw these as progress reports but as the year progressed and we came to know Caleb, the story has become much more personal. Caleb’s personality and our relationship with him has shaped this series to be a lot more than progress reports. He’s part of our family; we love him and it will be hard to see him leave us. So far, he does not have an official recall date to formal training, but it’s looming like a great big rain cloud. How quickly a year has come and gone but, at least, we’ll be spending the holidays with Caleb!

I am a big fan of the holidays, and we’ve already had quite a few highlights this year. The biggest so far was our participation in the Guide Dogs for the Blind Festive Holiday Luncheon in San Francisco. In its 35th year, it’s a pretty big event, drawing approximately 700 attendees. To me, it marked the official start of the holiday season, and this year, Caleb and I were part of the program.

I had the honor of speaking on behalf of the puppy-raising community and sharing some puppy-raising wisdom with the attendees. I brought along a crew of friends and family to support me, and Caleb, as always, was my trusty sidekick on stage. I am not an experienced public speaker, so the prospect of all those faces staring at me was a little daunting. I focused on two goals: not crying and making the audience laugh. I did both, so we’ll count it as a success.

Here’s a snippet from my speech:

In one year, we accomplished a lot. Caleb has grown from a chunky 16-pound puppy to handsome 62-pound dog. He’s learned how to walk on a leash, potty on command, maintain good manners, keep calm under pressure and, most importantly, to trust me.

We’ve traveled on planes, BART, buses and boats. We’ve visited California, Montana, Washington and Idaho, stayed in downtown hotels and fishing lodges. We’ve gone to plays, movies, meetings and appointments, stores, offices and black tie events—all of which prepare Caleb for life as a working guide dog. At home, we play games of tug, go hiking, practice our obedience commands, take naps and enjoy endless belly rubs—all of which prepare Caleb for being the best companion.

We happened to run into the breeder custodians of Caleb’s mom while there, they were so proud to see one of their grand-pups on stage. He has become a great ambassador for the organization and its mission. All in all, it was a wonderful day and just one more opportunity to test Caleb’s socialization and obedience skills among all those people—not to mention the puppies!

Caleb is really ready for his next adventure. I cannot think of a situation or distraction that he cannot handle. I am excited and sad as we prepare for his next career move and our next puppy. In the meantime, we’ll just curl up in front of the fireplace and relax this holiday season.

News: Guest Posts
Guide Dog Puppy Raising Balances Work and Play
Plus, some serious off-leash challenges for Caleb

This is my favorite time of year; I love the changing of the season and how it changes our activities. The temperature drops, the leaves change colors and soup becomes a staple on the dinner table. The one negative I can find is the shorter day. It’s an adjustment for all of us. We go from weekends spent on the water to weekends hiking the amazing central Oregon wilderness, and as always Caleb partakes in the fun. While he gets plenty of exposure to the public and new experiences we try to balance all of this with fun activities. These not only build trust but make working more fun and rewarding.

With no shortage of places to explore, we’ve been spending a lot of time up in the mountains taking advantage of the less crowded trails before the snowpack arrives. Caleb clearly enjoys the change of pace and scenery. Some of the toughest challenges we face on our hikes are off-leash dogs. I will be the first to admit Noah, our pet dog never walked on a leash. He was trained to respond to verbal commands and could be counted on to listen no matter the circumstance. However, when we were approaching or approached by any dog we’d but him on a leash for the safety of everyone.

It’s a bit different with Caleb; he’s not allowed off leash in areas that are not fenced and more often than not we can count on an off-leash dog encounter no matter where we go. These provide us with two different challenges. The first being a good distraction exercise for Caleb to work through. Ignoring an off-leash dog can be tough even for the most reliable dog, so we work some training into our fun hikes.

The second and more concerning for all of us is the unknown and in some cases aggressive off-leash dogs. This can be particularly detrimental to a Guide Dog puppy and end a working career before it even starts. One negative experience can cause unrecoverable damage that stresses out a dog enough that he cannot regain the focus to work successfully. Dog attacks are the number one reason for early or sudden retirement of working Guide Dogs. Luckily, I can simply pick up Caleb and move away from any off-leash dog approaching us in a dominant or aggressive posture. Caleb still thinks he’s a lap dog and doesn’t mind a little pick-me-up now and again. As long as our adventure continues he’s a happy.

Playing and being a family member are just as important in Caleb’s training as socialization and public outings. At home, just like any pet dog, Caleb enjoys playing with toys, napping on any number of beds around the house and following our every move. He sleeps in our room and loves racing around the backyard with a toy in his mouth. It’s not all work for this Guide Dog puppy; we make sure to have plenty of fun. One of my favorite games to play with Caleb is tug. He loves it and when he does he gets quite animated and makes the strangest noises. We call him the Wookie because he sounds exactly like Chewbacca from Star Wars. It is one of the most hilarious traits about Caleb, and I hope his future partner finds it as funny as we do.

More and more we are preparing ourselves for Caleb’s recall. This week marked his final evaluation by our community field representative from Guide Dogs for the Blind. We spent time reviewing Caleb’s monthly reports and discussing all of the different things we’ve exposed him to. He’s right where he should be in training. His obedience is spot on, he’s been exposed to all sorts of people, places and things, all of which he takes in stride. He’s confident but cautious, at the end of the meeting it was determined Caleb’s got a few more months with us before his recall. Since he’s a little immature we’ll get to keep him for a bit longer than the average pup. Finally, I found the silver lining of those Golden Retriever genes, and am thankful for some extra time with this little pup of whom I’ve grown so fond.

Next month, Caleb and I will have the honor of speaking at the Guide Dogs for the Blind Festive Holiday Luncheon in San Francisco, stay tuned.

News: Guest Posts
Caleb Keeps Rocking Guide Dog Preparation
The puppy-raising phase is coming to an end

This afternoon Caleb and I returned home from a five-day trip to San Francisco, where I learned two of his littermates had been career-changed. Since only about 50 percent of puppies in training make it as working guide dogs this is not unheard of, but after another successful travel experience with my stoic little dude it stung just a little. Luckily, Caleb remains on track. We have yet to encounter a situation he cannot handle. He is a willing participant in whatever activity we are headed for. Tail wagging and feet prancing, he’s very good at showcasing those Golden Retriever traits. 

We spent a few days in San Francisco, which is a great experience for this little country bumpkin. Caleb has become such a seasoned traveler I believe he absolutely knows exactly what’s going on when I begin to pack my bag and his food. Thinking back to the little chuck of puppy I picked up last winter, I am very proud of how far Caleb has come. Watching him navigate slipping under the seats on a plane and traversing through San Francisco Airport is really amazing. He’s ready to face whatever path he chooses. He is confident and smart and loves to please, I think he’ll make a wonderful guide dog and partner for someone.

From San Fran, we made our way to Napa for a few nights to visit some friends and attend the Guide Dogs for the Blind Canine Heroes Wine Gala. Guide Dogs for the Blind supports and funds the veterinary care for all program dogs for the duration of their careers. The funding will support everything from urgent-care treatments and life-threatening conditions, to annual exams including vaccinations and lab work.

The evening included amazing wine and food from local restaurants, a silent auction, a spirited live auction and lots of dogs! Caleb was more than willing to pose for photos and work the crowd. I managed to win the raffle drawing for 13 magnums of wine but most importantly nearly $500,000 was raised to ensure Guide Dogs for the Blind can provide the best veterinary care to their clients free of charge.

Even with all the excitement and Caleb’s successes, I think we’ve reached the point I should address the white elephant that’s been in the background of this series since the start, the reality of giving Caleb up, which is only growing closer with each passing day. I am hoping we’ll have him for another 3 to 4 months but we are starting to prepare for his recall, knowing it’s only a matter of time.

He’s the first puppy we’ve had who didn’t meet Noah, my yellow Lab companion of nearly 14 years. I think this worked in his favor as we refer to him as our clean slate pup. Our previous guide dog puppy-in-training, Arden, was with us when Noah passed away and the entire year was hard for all of us. I still miss my Noah every day but my heart aches less.

Caleb is with us—and more specifically, me—all the time; I am his person. He will go anywhere and do anything for me. Over the last year, we’ve built an amazing bond and trust that we’ll always have no matter what his future holds. He may go weeks, months or years without seeing me but his reaction will be the same and the reunions will be joyful no matter how long we’ve been apart.

I honestly don’t think any of my pups spend their days pining for me. All of them are with their soul mates and where they are meant to be. I am the awesome aunt who brings special presents and treats. From day one, I remind myself eventually we’ll have to say goodbye but as recent as last night I find myself tearing up at the prospect. It never gets easier, in fact, sometimes I think it gets harder with each dog.

News: Guest Posts
On the Road Again, Caleb’s Western Tour
Our Guide Dog pup travels four states, sniffs a T. Rex and turns one-year-old

It’s 8:02 on a Friday night, we are in a hotel room in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and I am the only one still awake. We have been on the road for a week; Caleb is officially a road warrior. Last Sunday, we packed up our car and headed west. A few years ago, my husband Alex went on a fly-fishing vacation to a lodge in Montana and had an amazing time. Since then he’s been trying to work another trip into our schedule and really wanted me to join him. I agreed on the condition we take Caleb with us; I don’t fish so I figured I’d need a buddy to hang out with for the 12 hours a day Alex and the other guests were on the water.

We mapped out a route that would allow us to stop and visit Alex’s parents in Boise before continuing on to Twin Bridges, Mont. I wanted to make sure none of us were in the car for more than six hours at a time day. It worked out perfectly: Each travel day was about 300 miles or less. Caleb was excellent in the car; he slept or chewed on one of his many toys. We stopped about every two hours for a stretch, walk, potty and water break.

Overnights in hotels are a breeze for him. As long as he’s got us, a bed and his meals, Caleb’s a happy pup. When we finally arrived at Healing Water Lodge, we all knew the drive had been worth it. Beautifully manicured grounds, a vegetable garden to die for, perfectly appointed rooms with plenty of room for Caleb’s giant crate, a gorgeous dining room and a pond complete with a resident beaver!

Caleb was welcomed with lots of love from the guests and staff and was part of every activity, from long walks and outdoor adventures to cocktail hour on the sun porch and gourmet dinners in the dining room. We hit some local museums, shopped and took a ton of photos. We spent a day in Bozeman with a friend and her two lovely Labrador ladies. Before heading back to the lodge, we made a visit to the Museum of the Rockies, where Caleb came face-to-face with some very large dinosaur bones. I am happy to report not once did he try to lick them.

The highlight of the trip for me was the opportunity to take Caleb out on a drift boat for a day of fly-fishing. We’ve spent a lot of time going with Alex to fish the streams and rivers around our house, but it means just grabbing a camp chair and setting up with a book on the water’s edge. Caleb had never been on a boat and frankly I’d never been on a drift boat trip but Alex’s guide, Cassandra, and the lodge, were phenomenal in coordinating this little family outing for us.

Caleb is comfortable enough around water I figured he’d do fine but I wasn’t prepared for how awesome he was. Within minutes of me putting him in the boat he was resting at my feet watching the world go by. Occasionally, he’d sit up or rest his head on Cassandra’s seat to see what was going on. We stopped on banks to let Alex work the water and land some fish, giving Caleb some time to explore and enjoy the scenery. We did have to raft through some small rapids but Caleb was fast asleep so he missed it completely.

By afternoon Caleb and I were relaxing in the boat while Alex was landing fish after fish in a small riffle. After a while, Cassandra brought over the fish for me to see and photograph. Guess who wanted in on the action? Caleb. We introduced him to a brown trout. He was not aggressive or overly interested; he sniffed, gave it a quick lick and looked back at me for approval. Since it’s all catch-and-release, no fish were harmed in the experience. Here’s a video glimpse:

This trip really solidified how grown-up our pup is. We’ve given him just about every opportunity to experience life as a working dog. I can confidently say Caleb has handled everything thing we’ve put him up against. We are getting closer to his recall date and know we probably only have a few more months with him. His first birthday is this week. Happy Birthday Caleb, you rock!

News: Guest Posts
Future Guide Dog’s “Family Reunions”
Caleb reunites with his littermates

Once a year Guide Dogs for the Blind hosts their annual “Fun Day” at each campus, an annual recognition event for puppy raising volunteers to thank them for everything they do. It’s the biggest event of the year. The day provides raisers from the various territories with the opportunity to learn about new training techniques, changes in the breeding program, new community placement options and, of course, to meet littermates and other raisers.

Three of Caleb’s seven siblings were attended—Cleveland, Carol and Clinton—all are yellow and being raised in the Portland area. We were able to spend some time chatting with the other raisers and comparing notes on our pups. Turns out, there are definitely some shared traits. All of them have the same “hook” move: When playing, they’ll wrap a front paw around you and hang on. They are all cuddly, love to play and are generally mellow personalities. However, when it comes to appearances they are all over the map. Cleveland is significantly bigger with a wavy long Golden Retriever coat, Carol is very petite and Caleb was commended as the cutest, and I have to say I agree!

It’s hard to say if they recognize each other as sibling since in general they show the same level of enthusiasm for all dogs. But it was fun to see some of his littermates and learn how they have been progressing through their training. To date, all eight are still in program and none have been career changed.

We also had a few visitors this month. My mum spends part of the summer in Bend and along with her comes her Black Labrador, Hobson, who is a community placement from Guide Dogs. Community placements are essentially ambassadors. They are paired with active community members, educators and others who help spread the word about Guide Dogs for the Blind.

My mum lives in a retirement community in Arizona where she and Hobson do outreach work on behalf of Guide Dogs for the Blind. They speak to Veterans organizations, vision-loss support groups and social clubs about the services and options available for the visually impaired. Hobson is a wonderful companion for my mum as well as perfect representative for Guide Dogs. When visiting, he also provides some welcome instruction and mentorship for Caleb. Caleb has learned to respect his elders, a bit, and that just because there is another dog around does not mean we are opening a wrestling camp in our living room!

Add to this mix four of my siblings and their families including kids ranging in ages from 2 to 16 and we had a really different vibe for Caleb to experience. This was again invaluable socialization and training for him, on any given day there were at least five additional people in our house, kid’s toys all over the place, and mealtimes were crazy. With our house as the hub of activity, Caleb got a dose of what I grew up in. Lots of people, food, noise, activity and kids running around, he handled it all very well but needed a few long naps in between.

While summer may be coming to a close, we are preparing for our long awaited vacation to Montana for some fly fishing, hiking and relaxing. Caleb is going with us to the lodge and we are looking forward to giving him even some more new experiences. Until next month, enjoy the rest of the summer!

News: Guest Posts
Guide Dog Puppy-in-Training’s First Summer
Swim lessons, playing with a pal and a new tattoo

To say we’ve had a busy month is an understatement. I got my first and only tattoo (more on that in a second), while Caleb has been traveling, trekking and celebrating his first summer in style. Summer has officially arrived in Bend and that means one thing around our house—getting outside as much as possible, preferably near water. For Caleb this meant his first swim lesson. Mind you, Caleb’s been splashing around in the river and creek for months but he’d yet to learn to swim. So we took him to one of our favorite swimming holes for a lesson.

Most people assume a Labrador will jump right into the water and begin paddling, and occasionally it happens, but little Caleb is a bit of a cautious gent. I knew it would take some coaxing. While a dog may instinctively know how to swim that does not mean he wants to. Knowing Caleb, we took it slow and played along the water’s edge, splashing around until he was comfortable with his surroundings and didn’t show any indication of stress. Every few minutes, I’d step a little deeper into the water and call him to me, not wanting to disappoint his mum he’d cautiously step forward and before we knew it he was swimming. We paddled around for a while, got out, took a walk for a change of scenery, and came back for round two. Now we’ve got a full-fledged swimmer on our hands.

Since we spend a fair amount of our summer in and on the water it’s important Caleb knows he can swim but that does not mean he can charge into water upon sight. He’s still got to maintain his ability to resist the urge to fling himself into the water, which is hard for a puppy, especially on a hot day. Needless to say, Caleb is just as happy to sit on the water in the canoe or kayak as he is to be swimming. Clearly being a cautious old soul has its benefits in this training exercise.

Thanks to the holiday activities and strange summer weather patterns, Caleb also got some experience with loud noises. Live music, fireworks and thunder have been very popular sounds around here. Knowing I’ve got a cautious old soul at the end of my leash, it’s very important that Caleb doesn’t experience a fearful or anxious reaction from me. Out for a walk one evening the sky erupted with a huge crack of thunder right above us, Caleb balked for a split second, looked at me and kept walking, on the next crack he simply looked up towards the sky and by the third installation he could have cared less. Without a reaction from me, there was clearly nothing to get worked up about. Never underestimate the energy that flows down the leash from you to your dog.

Another training exercise we’ve been able to work on is self-control. A slew of visitors, of the human and canine variety, have made home much more interesting for Caleb. Plus, we’ve had many new opportunities for socialization with more restaurants, movies and street fairs. We even volunteered at a half marathon.

Most of the time our household is pretty quiet—just the three of us, doing our routine. To mix it up, we had another Guide Dog puppy-in-training visit for a week. Suddenly, the humans no longer outnumbered the canines, it was going to be nuts. I expected chaos but all in all it went very well. With a schedule and routine there was little room for negotiating, the dogs could go from wrestling to relaxing with just one “that’s enough” command—impressive for a pair of boys whose combined age was not even a year! Vance was the first yellow Lab pup we’ve had in the house since Noah passed away; it was good to have some yellow fur around.

Speaking of my blonde bombshell, I had Noah’s paw print tattooed on my foot. A bit of the backstory: Before he passed away and before Jennifer Aniston made headlines with a tribute to her best dog, I said if I ever got a tattoo it would be Noah’s paw print on the bottom of my foot so he could take every step with me for the rest of my life. After he passed away, I told myself if a year went by and I still kept thinking about it was meant to be. Finally, I made the appointment and the evening before I was out on my paddleboard cruising up river for some exercise when I saw something floating in the water towards me. As it got closer I saw that it was an orange Kong on a rope—Noah’s favorite toy, the toy he carried on every walk and that we still have sitting in a bucket on our front porch. The next day, without a reservation, I got my tattoo.

Still to come this summer: a road trip to Montana and a road trip to Guide Dogs for the Blind to meet Caleb’s littermates!

News: Guest Posts
Guide Dog Puppy-in-Training’s “Teenage Rebellion”
And loving up first graders

Caleb has officially reached the halfway-point of his puppy-raising year; today he’s 9 months old! We took another plane ride this month; in fact, we took a few. Caleb even bravely managed an early morning flight, which sets back mealtime by an hour—a lifetime to a Labrador.

I left the Alex in charge for a week, while I rode my bike 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles as a participant in AIDS LifeCycle, a fundraising event support the programs of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and when I returned there was a dog where Caleb should have been. He had filled out and looked more like an adult; he had developed this wide ribcage and must have grown an inch in my absence.

Also, while I was gone, someone forgot what his day job was, no doubt a result of being home alone with the “easy” parent. A day after returning, I was working in my office with Caleb and after it was too quiet for a little too long I turned around to find him on his bed with a pack of Post It notes in his mouth. He was just holding them gingerly, not chewing on them but appearing not to know what to do or how he ended up with them in his mouth. He’s never picked up anything other than his own toys so I’ll chalk it up to teenage rebellion.

Speaking of kids, one of Caleb’s earliest socializations was a visit to the first grade classroom of another puppy raiser Mrs. M, who has graciously allowed all my pups to visit her class. Since he’s been visiting on a regular basis, we made a special trip back to say goodbye to the kids and give them a chance to ask me some questions about Caleb before summer break. Quite a list of questions had been compiled in anticipation. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “Why does he wear a jacket?”
  • “How does Caleb know when to cross the street?”
  • “How come Caleb never had accidents or goes to the bathroom at school?”
  • “Does Caleb get to play with other dogs?”

In turn, I asked the students what they liked most about having Caleb in class. The responses were hands down some of the best ever. First graders are awesome!

  • “He’s the best pillow and his ears are soft,”
  • “He’s funny and makes us happier.”
  • “I read to him and it helps me be a better reader.”
  • “He loves on us.”
  • “Class is cleaner because he’s here.”

While the learning experience for Caleb is phenomenal, it’s clear his impact on the students has been tremendous. I received a note from Mrs. M after one of Caleb’s visits describing the incident of Caleb and the new kid.

“When a new student arrived scared and unsure, he was greeted by Caleb’s wagging body and bright happy smile. Immediately, he relaxed and melted into Caleb’s fur, petting him and loving him up so carefully. It was an amazing way to get him to open up, tell me about his dog and what he likes about them. I think having Caleb there yesterday made a huge difference in the life of one little guy with a lot of baggage. School was warm, wiggly and happy! Caleb was there for him whenever he needed to be loved up.”

I certainly will not be the first person to tout the power of the pooch when it comes to the human emotion spectrum. But you can’t tell me it’s not there!

Now that summer has finally arrived in Central Oregon, we are looking forward to being outside, and we’re cleaning up the canoe, kayaks and paddleboards in anticipation. Caleb is going to learn all about water sports. Stay tuned.

News: Guest Posts
Guide Dog-in-Training Works the Red Carpet
Caleb’s first fundraiser

Our little dude is growing up so fast; we’ve completely lost all semblance of a puppy around our house except during playtime. He’s come to be known by one of his many nicknames, “Little Goat,” as he loves to jump straight in the air and race around the track he’s created in the yard, kicking up his heels and burning off steam.

Caleb is almost eight months old now, which means he’s about halfway through his puppy year. My best estimate is he’ll be recalled for formal training sometime next winter. But for now we are continuing to work on obedience, manners and socializing, all of which Caleb excels at. I had a light travel month for work so Caleb and I are proud to report we’ve made it to the gym every morning for the last two weeks and have been able to do some more daily outings and routines. Now that we’ve built a strong foundation of training, we’ve started to challenge Caleb with more complex outings and socializations. This month was no exception. 

Twice a year, Guide Dogs for the Blind hosts annual wine gala fundraisers in Napa and Portland to raise funds for veterinary care. Guide Dogs for the Blind is unique from other schools in that it commits to the healthcare of working dogs for the lifetime of the dog, well beyond their guiding career. Everything from routine vet visits, cancer treatments, orthopedic surgeries, flea, tick and heartworm prevention to kibble—it is all free of charge to Guide Dog graduates. Knowing the dogs I raise will receive the best care for their lifetime is extremely important to me. We make a point to attend the events and contribute financially to support this cause, so Caleb went with us to Portland for the weekend.

Now remember, we live in the country, so visiting the city is a big change; there are more noises, more distractions and more smells! Since we made a weekend out of it Caleb also got to experience another hotel stay. His first hotel stay was quite controlled; we were in a ground floor room with easy access to an exit for potty breaks. This time we stayed in a downtown high-rise hotel, where leaving for a potty break involved walking down a hallway, riding in an elevator, crossing the lobby, out the door and around the corner. Luckily, all of the practice and consistency of teaching Caleb to relieve on command came in handy. He was perfect. Saturday we spent the day walking and shopping throughout Portland, a more urban ‘hood than Caleb’s used to so it proved to be a good training experience for him.

After an afternoon nap for Caleb and spa treatment for me, we headed over to the Portland Art Museum for the main event, Pinot and Pups. The evening consisted of a reception and silent auction followed by a sit-down dinner, keynote speakers and a live auction. This was Caleb’s first large event, and there was a lot going on from the moment we stepped out of the elevator. There were people, servers, working guide dogs, musicians, puppies-in-training and even some tiny little eight-week-old pups.

Those first few minutes were a little overwhelming for Caleb, so I took his cue and gave him some time to stand in one place and take it all in. Once settled, we spent some time navigating the silent auction tables, placing our bids and talking to attendees. As expected, the question I’m asked most often is how can I give up a puppy; don’t I get attached? Yes, I absolutely do. But to see what these dogs are capable of, I have to be capable of letting go.

Puppies are, of course, the highlight of the event, which was perfect for my little social butterfly. By the time we sat down for dinner, Caleb was more than ready for a nap and was asleep before the first course plates were set. After so much activity and stimulation, Caleb was more than happy to sleep in the next morning until almost 7 am!

All in all the experience proved to be a new one with a slew of new challenges for the little rock star to navigate. Up next on Caleb’s calendar: back-to-back weeks of airplane travel, plus the end of the school year party and interview with his first grade fans. Tune in next month.

News: Guest Posts
The Whirlwind Life of a Guide Dog Puppy—with Video
Caleb’s first plane trip, photo shoot and evaluation

Last week was a big development week for Caleb. He took his first plane trip, met our delightful friend and photographer Amanda Jones (video below), explored San Francisco, and had his six-month evaluation with our field representative from Guide Dogs for the Blind. 

While in theory it would be great to have our dogs always travel with us, I can tell you from years of experience it’s not as easy as it looks! Guide Dogs for the Blind puppies under six-month-of-age are not permitted to fly and approval is required to ensure the experience is a positive one for all involved.   Travel can be very stressful for dogs, and pets in general, so I take into account as many of these factors as possible. I gauge if my puppy can handle not relieving himself for a number of hours. Can my puppy navigate crowds and airport security? Will I be staying in a location where my puppy will be comfortable? Will I have access to a fenced yard for him? And, finally, is it a worthwhile training experience?   When I travel with a dog I change my schedule to accommodate his, I fly at non-peak times on slow travel days, not during meal times and always on direct flights. In this case, I had to be in San Francisco on a Sunday so Caleb and I took a Saturday afternoon flight.   Clearly all of the other socialization activities Caleb’s been exposed to up to now parlay into his ability to accept the stress of traveling on a plane. If you plan to travel with you dog on a plane please consider if it’s the right thing for your pet; how much travel your dog been previously exposed to, noise sensitivity, stress triggers, age and most importantly be sure you are willing to drive home if air travel proved to be too much for your dog to handle.   Flying out of a small regional airport means I know the staff by name and they know I often show up with a dog in tow. Security is relatively easy to navigate, but we also have to walk directly onto the tarmac where the noise and planes can be daunting for a puppy. Caleb handled it all like a champ.   The flight was only about half-full, which gave Caleb some extra room and the flight crew was accommodating as always. Once on the plane, I brought out a new toy for Caleb and he settled right down under the seat. At not quite seven-months-old, Caleb’s the youngest pup I’ve taken on a plane. He’s also the only one to sleep from before take-off to after landing. Neither the noise nor the motion bothered him at all, as I’ve said throughout this series as long as he’s got a pair of feet to curl up on he’s fine.   Once in San Francisco, we had to make our way out of the airport to the pet rest area and then rode the tram to the rental car center—all of which were very new experiences for the little man. The week provided the opportunity to give Caleb many new experiences: We stayed in two different places both with resident dogs of their own, took the ferry from Marin to San Francisco, and enjoyed dinner in quaint downtown bistros.   But my favorite experience I shared with Caleb was having a photo session with Amanda Jones, a frequent Bark photo contributor. Now, Amanda’s not only the most talented, photographer but also a dear friend who always finds the time to fit my pups into her busy schedule. These photos are my keepsake of my short time with these amazing creatures. I see it as a present to myself for the love, hard work and heartache that comes with each puppy. Here’s a video snippet from the shoot.  

  By mid-week we were ready to head home, which proved again to be a walk in the park for my little travel companion. Even the busier San Francisco International Airport security process could not shake Caleb’s confidence. We followed the same rules of travel for our return home: off-hours flight, slow travel day and new toy for the flight home. Although he was asleep before we hit the runway. All in all, it was a perfect introduction to air travel for Caleb and a great training opportunity.   Caleb also had his six-month evaluation with our field representative from Guide Dogs for the Blind. Each month puppy-raisers complete a report that helps provide development and socialization feedback for the staff. In addition, puppies have two annual evaluations, at six and twelve months. This provides raisers with the opportunity to ask questions and gives field reps time to assess any problems or concerns and also to implement any new training techniques.   Caleb and I met with our rep at the local library where we reviewed paperwork and then set off on a walk to see how Caleb behaved out in public with other dogs and environmental distractions. He was nearly perfect—I was told he already acts like a Guide Dog! Caleb only has one slight issue with some dog distractions, so he was put on a food protocol to help change the behavior and its already working. It never fails; food is the great motivator.