work of dogs
News: Guest Posts
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
Nominate a deserving pup
Every day you tell us stories about the generosity, courage and loyalty of your canine companions, so I know there are more than a few Hero Dogs out there in the Bark community. Well, heads up: There are only eight days left to nominate a deserving pup for the American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Awards.
The idea of the contest is to celebrate the canine-human bond and to acknowledge dogs’ manifold contributions to our lives. In addition, 17 participating charities will have a chance to receive a share of $50,000 in grant prizes awarded by the Hero Dog Awards, including Canine Companions for Independence, United States War Dog Association and the National Association for Search and Rescue.
It's Me or the Dog star and Bark columnist Victoria Stillwell will lead the judging panel that will select heroes in eight categories: Law Enforcement and Arson Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Military Dogs, Guide Dogs, Search and Rescue Dogs, Hearing Dogs and Emerging Hero Dogs, this last category is a tribute to ordinary dogs who do extraordinary things. (Unfortunately for my dog, this probably doesn’t mean swiping a rack of ribs off an unguarded platter. I suppose a few seconds with the ribs was its own reward.)
Nominations will be accepted through May 31. If you don’t have a dog in mind, stop by the site anyway and read up on the deserving and inspiring nominee profiles. I’m glad I don’t have to select one in each category.
Finalists will be announced at a celebrity gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in L.A. on October 1.
News: Guest Posts
Deploying a clicker and treats to help a hesitant guide dog
Five months ago (has it been that long already?) I returned with my new dog from the Seeing Eye School in Morristown to piles of snow here in Chicago.
Poor Harper had never trained in snow. Was that why he was cowering on our walks to the Loop now? Does he miss the snow? Or maybe it’s a delayed reaction to the van that turned right in front of us. The driver didn’t see us crossing, she said. Her van brushed Harper’s face, and he pulled me back from harm so strongly that I fell. My head crashed on the concrete. Maybe that near-miss still has him scared.
Harper’s cowering started one day when I had a meeting downtown at Willis Tower. Halfway there, along a normal length of sidewalk, Harper crouched to the ground. Wouldn’t budge. Not forward, not backward. After trying everything I could come up with to get Harper to move, I finally accepted help from a stranger. The man walked Harper and me to Franklin Avenue, and when Harper caught sight of the Willis Tower he took off like old times.
On the way home, though, he cowered again. Four different times. Then he cowered on the way to and from the memoir-writing class I teach, on the way to and from the pool where I swim, on the way to and from the train station to visit my mom in the suburbs. We eventually got to all these places, but it was like driving a car that stalls all the time. It was miserable—both for Harper and for me.
“It really doesn’t matter why he’s acting this way,” the instructor from the Seeing Eye said when I called the training department for help. “He just can’t act like this.” They arranged to send an instructor out for a home visit.
Nicole spent her first afternoon with us just observing. Harper did not hold back. In one short walk, he refused to go all the way to the corner at an intersection, he veered right when we crossed, and then wouldn’t follow my command to turn right so we could take a walk to the park. He did get me home, though, and over a cup of tea Nicole assured me I hadn’t done anything wrong to cause Harper’s behavior. “We’ve just gotta work on how you react when he behaves like this,” she said.
Nicole suggested we try clicker training. Award-winning Seeing Eye instructor Lukas Franck had taught us clicker training while we were in Morristown last December, and I’d used it at home to teach Harper to find the elevator button in our hallway.
Clicking and giving Harper a treat to reward him for getting to the curb went counter to everything I’d learned when training with my previous Seeing Eye dogs Pandora and Hanni. Back then we were strongly discouraged from rewarding our dogs with food. Heap on the praise instead, they told us. Guide Dogs are allowed in restaurants, amusement parks, receptions, food courts, you name it. They have to be able to keep on task without being distracted by food.
Lukas—and then Nicole—assured me that the Seeing Eye had tested the clicker-training method extensively. I could use treats as rewards and still expect Harper to ignore food distractions in restaurants and the like. I was skeptical, but desperate. I decided to give it a try.
And you know what? It’s working! For the past couple weeks, I’ve been clicking the clicker every time Harper gets me to the end of a block. He understands that the click means “you got it!” and he knows that the sound of the click means he gets a small treat. Harper hardly ever cowers anymore; he’s in such a rush to get to the end of the block to collect his reward!
Harper’s work is not perfect—well, not yet, at least—but it has really, really improved. This week I’ve started weaning him off the clicker—in other words, I don’t click at each and every curb anymore. So far he’s still getting me to the end of each block without cowering, and his tail wags with pride when he does. Atta boy, Harper!
News: Guest Posts
A challenging and rewarding career
Earlier this month, my Seeing Eye dog Harper and I gave a guest lecture to an animal sciences class at the University of Illinois. I told the students what it’s been like transitioning to a new Seeing Eye dog, and I went over some of the qualifications necessary to become a Seeing Eye trainer/instructor.
News: Guest Posts
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.
News: Guest Posts
Rutgers students volunteer with future Seeing Eye dogs
I’ve been home three months with my new Seeing Eye dog Harper. He’s a two-year-old yellow bundle of Labrador energy, and not a day goes by where I don’t think of—and thank—the wonderful volunteer who raised him as a puppy. Harper and I trained for three weeks at the Seeing Eye last December. Before we left for home, our instructor read me Harper’s “puppy profile.” Each person who volunteers to raise a puppy for the Seeing Eye is asked to write up a little report. You know, to let us in on what our dogs lives were like before we met them.Here’s an excerpt: Harper was attending classes at my university (including attending the graduation!), going on buses and trains, attending other club meetings, university equestrian team shows with 20-plus horses, a trip to the airport, going on a plane but not taking off, emergency vehicles, malls, stores, fairs, the beach (his favorite), on a boat, in pools, overnight charity events, elementary school presentations, a retirement/recovery home, soccer, football and hockey games. Whew! Harper is one well-traveled dog, and he did all that even before he was a year-and-a-half-old! And yes, you read that right: He was raised on a college campus; he’s a Rutgers grad. An article on the Rutgers University Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Club website describes these generous students who volunteer their time to raise puppies for us. “To truly stop and spend a few moments observing the volunteers of the Rutgers University Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Club, you’re struck too by their obvious affection for and commitment to their charges—cute, adorable puppies with names like Elroy, Yankee, Harper and Oz.” Did you read that? The article mentions Harper! What a sweet little puppy he must have been; imagine the attention he got on campus. College students at Rutgers have been providing a welcoming home for Seeing Eye puppies since the year 2000, when the Rutgers chapter of the puppy-raising program began. After leaving the Seeing Eye breeding station, seven- or eight-week old German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and crosses of these breeds are placed with puppy raisers until they are 16- to 18-months-old. Raisers train the puppies in basic obedience, house manners, how to walk on a leash, and expose the dogs to real-life situations they might encounter once placed with a blind person like me. But back to Harper’s puppy profile: His puppy raiser said Harper loves squeaky toys, so we knew to give him some of those when he came home with me to Chicago. She also said that he loves being talked to in a singsong voice, so just imagine how much I sing to him now. My favorite part of Harper’s puppy profile: “He is the coolest dog I’ve ever had. His personality is a great combination of independence and affection.” Amen to that. THANK YOU, Harper’s puppy raiser. And thanks to all the other wonderful, generous volunteer puppy raisers out there. You are our heroes.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
They honor and assist those in the military
Fleet bears the name of one soldier and serves as the legs for another. He is a 15-week old Golden Retriever who is being trained as a service dog for Josh Craven. Craven lost one leg while serving as a soldier in Iraq and has had six surgeries on the other leg. When he returns home from Walter Reed Medical Hospital in a few months, he will be joined by Fleet who by then will be a fully trained service dog. Fleet’s jobs will include opening doors, turning on lights, getting food from the fridge and giving Craven his keys.Fleet was named after James Fleet McClamrock, a soldier who was killed in Iraq last September. McClamrock’s parents feel that every time Craven says his dog’s name, it’s a tribute to their son, and that he will be remembered. Fleet is one of many dogs who owes his training to the Carolina Patriot Rovers, an organization dedicated to providing service dogs to veterans in need of one, and therapy dogs to those veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Carolina Patriot Rovers rely on donations since they do not charge the servicemen and servicewomen for the dogs or the dogs’ training, which costs thousands of dollars. The dogs are named after either soldiers who have lost their lives in service to the country or after military groups. The names of some of the dogs trained recently are Ryan (after Christopher Ryan Barton), Noah (after Noah M. Pier), Wyatt (after Christopher Wyatt McCullough), Ivy (named for the 4th Infantry Division), and Deuce (named for the 22nd Infantry.) “One of the things in losing a child is you never want them to be forgotten,” says Susan McClamrock, whose son’s middle name was Fleet.” These dogs help veterans as both service dogs and therapy dogs and honor fallen soldiers, too, which is a comfort to the families who have lost a loved one.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Yale Law lets students “check out” the resident therapy pup
Last week, Yale Law School’s library started offering therapy dog services on a trial basis. Interest has been high, so it’s hopeful that the program will continue.
Students can sign up at the circulation desk to “check out” Monty, a certified therapy dog, for 30-minute sessions of stress busting. The Border Terrier-mix belongs to librarian Julian Aiken, so he’s well loved even when he’s “off duty.”
As you can imagine, it’s easy for students’ stress levels to rise at the nation’s top-ranked law school, so the librarians are always looking for new services to offer. After reading about the benefits of therapy dogs, they contemplated the idea for some time.
To keep the peace among any non-dog lovers, Monty is hypoallergenic and visits are confined to a non-public space in the library.
The idea of therapy dogs and college students isn’t quite new. Other schools, which include Tufts University, New York University (where my therapy group, The Good Dog Foundation, visits), Oberlin College, and the University of California, invite dogs to campus during finals, but Yale is the first I’ve heard of that lets students “check out” a therapy dog.
A little one-on-one time with a friendly pup sounds like the perfect way to beat stress!
News: Guest Posts
Neutering and operant conditioning training for future Guide Dog
It’s hard to believe little Caleb is already six-months-old. He’s become such a fixture in our routines that we all feel a bit off when that routine is interrupted. But it’s something we have to do in order to prepare Caleb for his future as a well-socialized canine ambassador. This month that interruption will be a big one—at least for little Caleb—he’s getting neutered.
Not all Guide Dog for the Blind puppies-in-training are altered during their puppy-raising year. But, Caleb being a male Labrador/Golden Retriever cross is not a candidate for breeding. All working Guide Dogs are altered before they enter formal training, however there is a percentage of puppies who are watched throughout their puppy-raising year as potential breeder candidates and there are a number of puppies, such as Caleb, who are altered during that time too. As I mentioned in a previous post, Guide Dogs for the Blind supports and maintains its own breeding department and dogs. There are about 180 dogs in the breeding program. These dogs live with people who have been selected as “breeder custodians” and spend the majority of their time doing what most pet dogs do—playing and being part of a family. They are a mix of yellow and black Labradors, as well as Golden Retrievers and also female Labrador/Golden Retriever crosses (Caleb’s mom being one of them). Eighty percent of the breeders are females and 20 percent are males, and they are the epitome of the Guide Dog ideal. Guide Dogs for the Blind also participates in an exchange program with other International Guide Dog Federation schools that promotes the sharing of litters and dogs. Puppies-in-training and breeders have come from Guide Dog schools in Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and The Netherlands and in return these schools have received dogs from Guide Dogs for the Blind. This helps the global Guide Dog community to continue to add new genes into the lineage while maintaining the most important Guide Dog traits, health and temperament. Speaking of temperament, Caleb is a rock solid star. For the most part, he’s mature enough to go where we go. He can handle an afternoon of errands, an evening of dinner and a movie, a high school basketball game, even a trip to barn to check up on my horse. As long as he can find a pair of feet to curl up between, he’s happy to be wherever we are. In addition to the fun stuff we do, twice a month we meet with our puppy-raising club to work on obedience and learn from our advisor new and improved way of working with our puppies. All of Caleb’s obedience commands and puppy-handling exercises are rewarded with praise, lots and lots or praise! There are very few instances where we use food rewards for puppies-in-training—in teaching recall and “go to bed” exercise using operant conditioning. In operant conditioning, puppies are rewarded for offering a desired behavior instead of being physically manipulated to respond to a command. Essentially, it’s a game, a fun and rewarding game for the pups. Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy-raising department uses operant conditioning in the “go to bed” exercise. Using a mat or crate pad, I walk Caleb by the mat and if he offers the desired behavior of touching the mat I “mark” him with the word “nice” followed immediately with a piece of kibble. The timing is everything as the marker occurs immediately upon the behavior and the kibble reinforces the behavior. After a few rounds of touching the mat, I wait for Caleb to remain standing on the mat, where he again receives the verbal marker followed by kibble. Next I wait for Caleb to offer a sit and eventually lay down on the mat, continuing to give him a verbal marker and kibble to reaffirm the behavior. I don’t name the behavior Caleb does this all on his own, knowing the verbal marker and food reward will follow. Once the behavior is consistent I add the “go to bed” name and from then on I cue him with the words to perform the behavior. It’s amazing to see how quickly the puppies pick it up and how this technique becomes a cornerstone of training for dogs when puppies return to campus for formal Guide Dog training. Operant conditioning can be taught with a verbal marker or a clicker and was originally used in the lab and with marine mammals. It took me awhile to get in sync with the coordination of the marker and reward, but now that we have it Caleb rocks this training. Another big training milestone is coming up next month, Caleb will take his first airplane ride as we head down to San Francisco for Caleb’s photo shoot with our dear friend and Bark photo contributor, Amanda Jones. Stay tuned.
News: Guest Posts
Follow their progress online
A dozen American search-and-rescue dogs are on the ground in Japan to search for survivors after last week’s earthquake and tsunami.Riley, Baxter, Pearl, Hunter, Cadillac and Joe were trained by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) and are based with firefighters in California. They’re currently at work in the hard-hit city of Ofunato. According to a CNN report, another group of six dogs, from Virginia Task Force 1 in Fairfax County, Va., have joined the effort as well. Both rescue crews have responded to some of the biggest disasters of the last 20 years, from the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 attacks to Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Learn more about the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation in Lisa Wade McCormick’s story for Bark, “Rescue, Doubled” (Sept/Oct 2009). The teams will sniff for humans still alive and trapped in the wreckage—even unconscious victims can be detected. Nosing into the layers of rubble, the dogs help “clear” areas as searchers systematically move through the debris. The dogs’ work is easy to follow stateside: The SDF posts frequent updates on their site and on the group’s Facebook and Twitter pages. There’s even video of the dogs arriving in Japan to begin their mission. Task Force 1 also reports the latest news on their site. The most recent posting, from Wednesday evening in Japan, said the dogs had concluded their searches in Ofunato and Kamaishi with no victims located.
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