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Guide Dog Puppy Raising Balances Work and Play
Plus, some serious off-leash challenges for Caleb
No longer a puppy, Caleb enjoys the return of snow and cold mountain air at Green Lakes, Bend, Ore.

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.

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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. guidedogs.com

Photo by Alex Minkiewicz

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Submitted by Anonymous | November 18 2011 |

That picture is why I refuse to support most service dogs organizations. A CHOKE CHAIN?! Really?! You would think a dog learning something which is vital to the well-being of another human would be trained using methods that are scientifically validated and not shown to INCREASE aggression. SHAME.

Submitted by Megan & Caleb | November 18 2011 |

While you are entitled to your opinion and I completely respect it. There is research, documentation and validation for the pros and cons of every last training tool used by dog owners, trainers and professionals. Guide Dogs for the Blind happens to train all of their dogs on flat collars, head collars (such as Gentle Leader or Halti) and training collars. The training collar is not attached to Caleb's leash, he's simply wearing it around his neck.

Submitted by Sandi | January 2 2012 |

It's interesting that you "refuse" to support most service dogs organizations because of the type collar they use in training. Choke chain collars can be very beneficial in training; it's certainly not a pinch collar. A choke chain is useful in that it can be pulled sharply and quickly - to correct the dog. After a couple of correct tugs, most dogs will respond to just the sound of the chain's movement to understand their action is not acceptable and correct themselves. These collars are not intended to be used as a painful correction method but are very effective.

It's truly unfortunate that you find such a small reason to refuse to support organizations that not only rescue dogs, but provide a person with a loving and necessary companion.

Submitted by Carolyn | November 18 2011 |

"Luckily, I can simply pick up Caleb and move away from any off-leash dog approaching us in a dominant or aggressive posture..."

I hear you on that! I dread the approach of off-leash, out of control dogs. My little dog is afraid of most other dogs, especially those that approach rapidly and confidently. She quickly turns into a "victim," cowering and trying to hide behind me. Because I can't often tell exactly what the other dog's intentions are, I end up picking her up.

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