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News: Guest Posts
Guide Dog Leads Man to Safety After Quake
Pair weaves through wreckage for three hours after Christchurch earthquake

Blair McConnell had the bad fortune to be at work in Christchurch on February 22, 2011, when the earthquake hit. His luck changed when he dove under his office desk. His guide dog Kiwi was there waiting to help him. A story in New Zealand’s Sunday Star Times describes noble guide dog Kiwi leading McConnell through fallen masonry and concrete to safety. “I grabbed his harness and he was quite keen to get out,” said the Telecom sales rep.

  “We had got out of the building and into the middle of Hereford Street with hundreds of others when the second big aftershock hit. There was lots of screaming and hysterical people.” Stories are flying around New Zealand about Kiwi walking his blind companion all the way home, and McConnell is quick to dispel those rumors. The 8-year-old curly-haired Labrador/Retriever cross did stay calm, McConnell says. And it’s true the beloved guide dog threaded McConnell through the carnage and rubble along the banks of the city’s Avon River for three long hours. In the end, though, a stranger stopped to give the pair a ride home, which has left McConnell feeling “a bit of a fraud,” knowing he got a ride, but: “I’m quite sure he would have walked me home that day if he had needed to.”   I don’t doubt that for one minute. One of the many, many reasons dogs have been selected to guide people who are blind is that strong canine homing instinct. My new Seeing Eye dog Harper has only been home with me for three months, and it’s amazing how good he already is at retracing his steps home and finding known destinations. I’m confident he’d find our way home in a crisis, I just hope I never have to find that out!   And PS: If someone offered Harper me a ride after an earthquake, I’d take it.

 

News: Guest Posts
Guide Dog-in-Training Hits the Road
Caleb visits Washington and Idaho

As usual, we’ve had another busy month of adventures, activities and … first graders. Caleb is fast asleep in my office as I type this but don’t let that image fool you; he’s clearly coming out of his shell and has discovered being a puppy can be FUN!

 

Most people assume Guide Dog puppies are always working, which is sort of true. They are expected to maintain generally good house manners—no to running in the house and counter surfing; yes to listening, following directions and behaving with a level of self-control—not unlike those first graders (more on them in a second). But when we are home Caleb for the most part acts like a pet. He follows me from room to room and sleeps most of the time. We take breaks to play games of tug, work on his obedience skill, run around the backyard, walk to the mailbox and repeat.

 

Guide Dog puppies have a lot of routine to their days, however, it’s also important they are exposed to a number of people, places and things they might encounter as a working Guide Dog to help prepare them to deal with new and different situations calmly. This month was no exception for Caleb.

 

I travel frequently for work and Guide Dog puppies are not allowed to travel by plane until they’re 6 months old—even then it requires approval from Guide Dogs for the Blind. So for now Caleb stays home with my husband Alex when I travel. Alex works in healthcare, and a hospital can be a bit much for a young puppy so a few days a week Caleb has been attending first grade with one of the puppy raisers in our club.

 

This is a beneficial experience for Caleb and the children. They are all learning about self-control; the first graders are learning to ignore Caleb and Caleb is learning not to pick up paper off the floor! The kids are also learning about people with disabilities, service dogs and volunteering. It’s a win-win for everyone. Clearly, it takes a village to raise a Guide Dog puppy too.

 

In addition to my work travel, we had a few weekend road trips this month that afforded Caleb his first out-of-state adventures. Travel can be stressful for dogs so we try to ease the pups into being comfortable in different cars, relieving themselves in different places on various surfaces and staying in new places. With this in mind, we took a quick day trip to Washington that gave Caleb the opportunity to spend a few hours in the car and experience some new sights and smells.

 

The following weekend we made the trek to Boise, Idaho, to visit Alex’s parents and sister. Caleb had his first opportunity to stay in a hotel room, experience a bustling downtown area and visit some new and different places. Downtown Bend is relatively small and quiet so a visit to downtown Boise was a great introduction for Caleb to city streets, smells and noises. The happy-go-lucky swagger of his tail continues to reflect his easygoing personality and willingness to go with the flow.

 

My husband did not grow up with dogs and Caleb was the first puppy in training we’ve brought with us to visit his parents, everyone was impressed with how calm and well behaved Caleb was. Especially my father-in-law, who more than once was found camped out on the floor playing with Caleb.

 

We are clearly coming out of the baby puppy phase with Caleb as he’s tipping the scales at 40 pounds and has quite possibly lost every single one of his baby teeth. Now, we are ready for the next phase—“teenage puppy in all his glory.” 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs Sniff Poop for Environmental Studies
Biologists train rescue pups to help in wildlife surveys

Whether we like it or not, dogs seem to have an uncanny ability to seek out animal droppings. My Sheltie’s favorite is the goose waste left behind at the lakeside path we run on.

Believe it or not, this natural affinity for poop seeking is now being harnessed to help in scientific studies. Biologists at the University of California Berkley have trained dogs to detect animal droppings in order to conduct more accurate environmental surveys. 

Wildlife detection dogs have long been used in airports to detect smuggled exotics, but in recent years many of these working canines have been used to help scientists study endangered species and habitat loss.

While most people are trying to figure out how to get rid of animal waste, the information found in excrement is invaluable to scientists. Droppings are a non-invasive way to monitor an area and its animal population. The information in animal waste can be used to identify individuals and analyze hormone levels and diet.

The cool thing about the University of California’s program is that all of the dogs they use are rescues. The researchers say that the characteristics of a successful wildlife detection dog are often the very traits that cause their canines to be abandoned, like having a high energy level. 

The selection process is rigorous, as only one in every 200-300 dogs is considered a candidate. And only about 40 percent of those pups make the final cut. 

I also love that the training is done by positive reinforcement.  When the dogs locate the droppings of a target species, they are rewarded with a play session. The wildlife detection dog program certainly seems like a win-win for everyone!

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Super Bowl Sniffers
Dogs help keep the big event safe

 

The Super Bowl is an exciting event, but like any big gathering, it poses security risks. Where there are security risks, there are often human-canine teams whose job it is to secure the area and keep it safe for everyone.   Bomb-sniffing dogs (and their human handlers) from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are working long hours searching for explosives in Dallas. Their work includes sweeping for explosives at Cowboys Stadium prior to the Super Bowl this Sunday. There will be more dogs than ever tackling this assignment because of the gigantic proportions involved. The stadium itself covers 73 acres, while the entire site, including the stadium covers 140.   Many of the dogs working the Super Bowl have experience sniffing for explosives in high profile events such as the World Series as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Comforting Kids in the Courtroom
Working canines help children called to testify

The courtroom is a stressful environment for all people, especially children. Testifying against a scary adult can be terrifying, causing many kids to shut down. 

In an effort to help, programs across the country have started using dogs to provide comfort and support to people in court. The Canine Advocacy Program (CAP) in Michigan is the latest program to join others in Washington, California, and Florida, and specializes in helping children. 

CAP was founded last year by Dan Cojanu, former supervisor of the Victim Services Unit for the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office.

Dan says that kids take to his dog, Amos, instantly causing their anxiety to melt away.  Amos, came from Leader Dogs for the Blind who left the program because he pulled too much on his leash. However, the Chocolate Labrador's friendly and calm demeanor was perfect for the Canine Advocacy Program. 

Amos is called into cases by child advocates, law enforcement, and judges. He's trained to sit near children while they wait to testify or even when they're on the stand. Amos’ latest job was to accompany two children into an Oakland courtroom to testify against a defendant charged with criminal sexual conduct.

While it's easy to see the calming effect that courtroom dogs have on kids, not everyone has welcomed Amos just yet. Some prosecutors don't want to risk having their case reversed or having the child to testify again. Potential allergies and phobias further complicate the matter. 

Currently there is no established case law concerning dogs as witness companions in courtrooms. Hopefully this is something that can be explored as a next step to standardizing pets in the courtroom.

 

News: Guest Posts
Caleb About Town
And the importance of “lap time” for future Guide Dogs

Happy New Year! As I sat down to write this I realized Caleb is 4-months-old today and time is already flying by. It has been a busy month around our house bringing home a new puppy during the cold winter months has its challenges. The days are shorter and colder and potty training takes time, sometimes lots of waiting time. Luckily, Caleb figured out that the quicker he did his business the faster he could resume his position in front of the fireplace.

 

Turns out Caleb’s a very fast learner all around, which I attribute to his Labrador genes and perhaps the food rewards. It goes without saying each and every dog has their own unique personality and we often compare the traits of our previous Guide Dog puppies. Solstice was our sassy girl, Laker was our mellow moose, and Caleb, he’s our lap dog. He’s sort of a diva—a very adorable and loveable diva, as we are coming to learn. He’s been especially great to have around this week as it marks the one-year anniversary of Noah’s passing. Caleb loves nothing more than to spend hours snuggled up on a lap, which is just what I’ve needed lately.   A few weeks ago, Caleb went to our amazing vet for his final set of puppy shots; he came through with a superb health report and won the off-the-chart cuteness award from the entire staff. Before he completed his vaccinations, we were careful to avoid interactions with unknown dogs. While it’s critical that young puppies begin socializing early, it’s more important to protect their immune systems from potentially dangerous infections. Luckily, we had a few Guide Dog puppy club meetings to get him acquainted with other dogs being raised in our club, and a meet-and-greet with Arden (now Artie) and a visit with Andera (now Andhi). He’s now well aware that the bigger dog always calls the shots and you need to respect your elders, important skills to learn early on. Now that he’s vaccinated we have been venturing out on more advanced socializations and outings.   We try to do at least one socialization or outing per day ranging from a trip to the post office or a restaurant to the movies. Our outdoor activities are limited by the cold Central Oregon winter and the attention span of a 16-week-old puppy, so we end up going to the movies, a lot. Caleb, of course, goes with us. He also makes a perfect chick-flick date when my husband Alex is not around.   Last weekend, we were leaving the theater and stopped by a family who mentioned they too were puppy raisers from Medford, Ore. After a few minutes of chatting, we learned they had raised Caleb’s mom Tulin! It was a great treat for them to meet one of Tulin’s puppies and also for me to learn a bit about his mom. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more of them as they have a vacation home in Central Oregon and visit often. As Caleb gets older we’ll do more outings per day but since he’s still such a pup we like to ease him into all the stimulation the world has to offer. Guide Dogs for the Blind provide raisers with some general guidelines for age appropriate outings for puppies.   In addition to outings and socializations, Caleb is subjected to daily puppy-handling exercises, in his mind this translates to lap time. It provides him with a certain level of comfort being handled and touched all over. Vision-impaired guide dog users rely on touch to maintain grooming, weight management and general health of their canine counterparts. So it’s very important that Caleb allow me to clip his nails, brush his teeth, clean his ears and manhandle him without squirming. He does not seem to mind it at all.   We are also beginning to work on some obedience commands, more to come on that topic. But suffice to say Caleb already walks calmly on a loose leash, responds to his name, sits when asked and waits for his kibble. Not too shabby for a baby pup!   I’d love to answer your questions in future blog posts; please feel free to ask me about puppy raising in the comments section below.

 

News: Guest Posts
Welcome Home Caleb!
New Guide Dog puppy settles in

[Editor’s note: 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 in puppy-raising for The Bark blog.]

 

I’ve been busy since my last post. I had a quick business trip to Colorado, which provided me the opportunity to visit Laker, a puppy we raised who is now a working guide in Boulder. Laker was my favorite puppy; I will admit giving him up was difficult. But, it’s always wonderful to see him and have the opportunity watch him work with his partner. He is where he’s meant to be and I find endless joy in knowing that.   A few weeks before his recall, Arden was career-changed. (See “Saying Goodbye to Arden.”) This is always a possibility and can happen even while a puppy is still in the puppy raiser’s home or at any point in formal training. Arden was too easily distracted. As you can imagine it takes quite a bit of restraint and self-control to ignore other dogs, and he just didn’t have it. But, I am so happy to report he is now the spoiled only-child of our friends across the street. He’s super happy, settling in well and enjoying life as a pet. Plus, I can see him from my office window!   So enough about the old guys, everyone is really here to learn about the new kid. On December 17, I made the trek over the mountains and through the woods, literally to Guide Dogs for the Blind Oregon campus where I was introduced to Caleb, our new puppy. He’s three-quarter Labrador and one-quarter Golden Retriever, and looks mostly like a Black Labrador. The only bit of Golden Retriever we can find is the extra soft fur atop his head and the slight wave to his coat.   Both of his parents are part of the Guide Dogs for the Blind breeder stock program. These specially selected dogs were chosen for their health and temperament. Many years and much research have been invested in the genetics and genes of these dogs with the hopes of passing both to their offspring. Let’s hope Caleb got the best of mom and dad. He is one of eight: three females and five males; five of them are yellow and three are black. All of their names start with the letter C.   All puppies are born on the San Rafael campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind, where they are cared for by specially trained maternity ward staff for the first eight weeks. Puppies are handled from date of birth and begin socialization at seven days. They remain in the whelping kennel until six weeks with their mom and littermates. At six weeks, the pups are moved into the puppy kennel. Here they spend time twice a day with puppy-socializer volunteers (a coveted duty).   At this point, they are introduced to a leash and collar, walks, other animals and more. Caleb was part of a newly formed puppy trial where pups remain on campus for an extra week. They are taught polite food-taking and are introduced to wearing a mini version of a Guide Dog harness. From past experience, I can confirm Caleb better understands bite inhibition and takes food more gently than his predecessors. Knowing food is a great motivator for Labradors, it’s important they learn self-control when taking food from a hand. Considering Caleb can down a cup of kibble in under a minute this is a great start to his training.   For now, he is just settling in and getting used to all the new sights, smells and sounds. My husband, Alex, made a comment about two hours after Caleb’s arrival that he’s the best baby puppy we’ve had. I might have to agree. He snuggly, very happy-go-lucky, loves everything he tries, and he’s got a tail that wags all the time to a really slow beat.   Training a Guide Dog puppy starts as soon as we bring them home. First on our list of important “to do” items, potty training. Pups are taught to relieve themselves only on command; this is an important skill that allows raisers and graduates to confidently take their dogs in public and know they will not have accidents.   I can say Caleb is doing very well on this score, however it requires a lot of eagle eyes and anticipation from us. Our general rule of thumb is potty breaks are offered after eating, sleeping and playing. As he matures, we’ll begin to put more time between each opportunity.    Slowly we have started to take him out with us to walk the neighborhood, ride in the car and meet people. Today, we ventured out to our favorite coffee shop for his first official outing in his little green Guide Dog puppy vest. Caleb happily accepted his vest and enjoyed the adventure if only for a few minutes, wagging his tail and standing calmly next to me.    Two of the things we are careful to monitor and manage are stress level and stimulation. This is the reason we begin with small intervals of training and socialization. While the first few weeks of puppy raising isn’t all that exciting, we’re setting the stage for building Caleb’s trust in us and developing our own working partnership. For now, we’ll continue games of tug, puppy-handling exercises and napping, there is a lot of napping to do.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Nick News Premiers Good Dog
Spotlight on kids and service dogs

Nick News With Linda Ellerbee premiered a special that highlights the role of service dogs in the lives of children. The show Good Dog explores the relationship between children and their service dogs. Whether the dog reaches items that they cannot, allows them to handle socially stressful situations, prevents them from wandering off, alerts them to the presence of a life-threatening allergen in food, or serves as their ears, eyes, hands, or legs, service dogs make their lives better.

  The dogs help them be independent, unafraid, confident, safe and happy depending on the individual child’s needs. It’s beautiful when a child is able to do something because of a service dog that would otherwise be impossible. We all know that to touch the life of a child is to touch the future, and a service dog is capable of doing that in ways that people can’t. Good dog.   It will soon be possible to view the entire show Good Dog on Nick.com.
News: Guest Posts
Saying Goodbye to Arden
Adventures in puppy-raising for Guide Dogs for the Blind

[Editor’s note: Next month, Megan Minkiewicz brings home a new puppy, the sixth dog she and her husband will raise for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Over the next year and a half, she’ll write about her adventures in puppy-raising for The Bark blog.]

 

A lifetime ago, I met a yellow Labrador Retriever named Noah who forever changed my life. He was young and I was single, we made a good team. To say he stole my heart is an understatement, for nearly 14 years he was my shadow and constant companion. Noah chose a career path different than the one for which he was intended as a puppy-in-training for Guide Dogs for the Blind. He followed the career path I like to think he was meant for, to be mine. So began my induction into the folds of Guide Dogs for the Blind, raising puppies is my way of giving back to the organization that gave me my dog.   To date, my husband Alex and I have raised five puppies for Guide Dogs. Two female yellow Labs (Solstice and Lotus) and three male black Labs (Andera, Laker and Arden), I remember all of their birthdates, assigned tattoo numbers, nicknames and every quirk about them. Each was special and different and we learned something new from each of them. They were our dogs if just for a year and will forever remain part of our family. We have the good fortune of keeping in contact with our pups. They remember us no matter how long it’s been between reunions, the end result is Lab laps, licks and lots of love.    Our current puppy Arden is just about ready to return to Guide Dogs for his formal training, which means soon a new charge will join our family and have some big paws to fill. Arden has spent the last year as my sidekick; we practice basic obedience, good house manners and general socialization in any number of situations. Generally, where we go the puppy goes—restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, airplanes, grocery stores, trains and more—Arden’s done it all. He’s grown up to be a well-traveled, well-behaved and well-respected member of the community! Living in a small town, Arden is often recognized long before the person at the other end of the leash is even considered.    We volunteer as raisers and, like parenting, we are in it for the love. There are no guarantees. Each puppy comes with its own personality; our job to get them ready to choose their path. Whatever that path may be, it will be an adventure getting there.   We know little about our next puppy, although he will be another male, he may be a Labrador or a Labrador/Golden cross, black or yellow. It’s all unknown until we are handed that little tub of a puppy on December 17.   In the meantime, I am on the heartbreaking countdown to giving up Arden. It’s never easy, even though I know I will see him again—be it at his graduation or, if he’s a career change, back home as a pet. It’s like sending a child off to college. Will he get along with his roommate? Will the instructors like him? Will they know a Jolly Ball is his favorite toy and his favorite place to be scratched is the bridge of his nose? The reality is Arden will love formal training; there are friends, and games, and treats, and lots and lots of love. I will follow his progress through a weekly phase report as he climbs the ladder through ten phases of training—if he makes it that far!   So join me on this blogging adventure to follow the life and times of a Guide Dog puppy in training and I’ll keep you posted on Arden’s adventure too.
News: Guest Posts
Remembering K9s on Veterans Day
First-person stories from handlers in war zones

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, when we honor the service and sacrifice of military veterans, a tradition going back to Armistice Day, November 11, 1919. With our country involved in protracted wars on two fronts it is indeed a poignant day. Among the veterans we honor are military dogs, from sentries in Vietnam to explosives detection dogs in Iraq. Dogs have served in the U.S. military since World War I, but by 2010 there were nearly 3,000 in service, many of them deployed in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Like their handlers and their fellow soldiers, these K9s work hard, contribute much, and suffer injury, trauma and sometimes death.

  I’ve been reading Nicole Arbelo’s book K9 Heroes: Together We Protect, Defend And Conquer As One. For Arbelo, who teaches at a high school for the deaf and hard of hearing in the Bay Area, the book is obviously a labor of love. Her interest became a passion, when she was researching the role of dogs in the military and read about Sgt. Adam Cann, a K9 handler and trainer from her hometown, who had been killed by a suicide bomber while working security in Ramadi.   When she discovered his partner, a bomb-sniffing German Shepherd named Bruno, survived, she tracked down his new handler. Their story and his encouragement inspired her to “adopt” other handlers, send care packages, develop friendships, reach out and collect stories of war dogs and their handlers. These first-person reports—unvarnished, proud, patriotic, gritty and funny—provide a great introduction to this elite fraternity.   ► Follow Nicole Arbelo on Facebook. ► Check out the Military Working Dog Memorial.

 

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