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Monday, November 23, 2009

To Be Continued

How do you like these fun "before" and "after" pictures of Duckie? He has turned out to be quite a dog. But really, Dakota's story has only just begun! You can follow the further adventures of Ben and Dakota at:

They are so awesome!

...And, is anyone just a teeny bit curious to see who our new puppy will be? Well, it's...
(Drum roll please!)

...Wait, you don't really think I'm going to tell you right here, do you?! Of course not! Because I want all that pent-up curiosity to force you to click on over to:

So hightail it on over there! Update your bookmarks, become a follower, leave us some comments. We're just like our puppies: will work for praise!

Tail wags to all, and thanks for being such a terrific audience!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Then and Now

Dakota and Ben by a truck with Dakota's puppy photo on the door You gotta love this...Dakota as an 8-week-old puppy (above, on van) and now, an all-grown-up service dog.

He & Ben have been hard at work lately.

Ben grooms Dakota

They've practiced going all kinds of places together.

Ben plays Wii while Duckie watches

...Actually, that looks like fun!

Keep on wishing them well as they continue their training together!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Off to a Great Start!

When we puppy raisers turn in our well-trained (we hope!) dogs at the end of our time with them, there's a pretty normal phenomenon that they seem to go through to one degree or another...we call it "regression." The dog can seem to go backwards in his training, as if he's "forgotten" what he had earlier done so well. As I understand it, a lot of this is due to the stresses of the transition, and the dog being a situational learner just takes a while to get back up to speed. So, to be honest, although I was confident that Dakota "knew his stuff" I didn't really expect to see much out of him for a seemed only realistic that he'd take a while to transition to his new handler & new surroundings.

Now you know why you could've knocked me over with a feather when I got a call from Michelle early yesterday afternoon saying that within 20 minutes of being handed over to Ben, his new owner (yeah! I got permission to tell you his name!), Duckie accurately alerted him to high blood glucose levels. GO, DUCKIE!!! :-) I was literally choking back the tears (of joy!) in Wal-Mart (which is where I was when I got her call)...I'm sure everyone thought I was a bit odd but hey, I'm sort of used to that by now! I thought I couldn't be happier until...

...later in the afternoon, I got the email that...Dakota did it again!

...AND...a note later on that he'd done it again! Can you say WOW?!

Now, I know that as a team they've got a lot of work to do, and I'm sure Dakota still has much to learn. But you really can't ask for a better start than that.

Michelle & Ben's Dad have sent me a few photos & said they were OK to post Ben!

Dakota and his new owner, a young boy What a great team, don't you think? Yeah, I think they were pretty much made for each other. Duckie needed his very own person to look after. He's going to get to go to school with Ben & everything. Way cool! Here they are getting ready to go on their first walk...
Ben bends over to give Dakota a pat as they begin a walk

Notice the awesome reflective tape on the chest piece of Duckie's jacket. I love it!
Ben & Dakota, who is wearing service dog jacket with reflective chest piece
...Just chillin' , waiting for the day's work to start...
Dakota and Ben relaxing on the bed together
I think Dakota has finally found his niche. Keep up the good work, guys will do great!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gone...Never Forgotten!

Fittingly, the day we gave Dakota back to GDTx for final training with his partner was November 14, World Diabetes Day. We are so excited that we were able to prepare him for his career as a diabetic alert dog and look forward to hearing about his progress (more on that later!)
family photo with Dakota

This has definitely been a family effort!

Our last week with Duckie was pretty relaxed and normal, and we made a last visit to many of our favorite spots.

Dakota smiles from behind a big tree stump

A walk in the woods is fun this time of year!

kids with Dakota and some flowers

Just hanging out with the kids...what could be better?

Dakota and Beth in the fork of a large oak

Of course, Duckie had to help me run some errands and do a little shopping, just like always.

Dakota looks up at Beth as they enter a store together

Dakota watches while I pick out stuff at Hobby Lobby

Just a dog doing his job!

Dakota & Beth in front of the shopping cart

Dakota loves to "find the counter" when it's time to pay for our purchases. 95% of the time he also finds me the shortest line -- what a talent! I think that's because he's aiming for the counter itself and just wants to get me as close as possible...he certainly doesn't mind waiting as much as I do!

Of course, we spent plenty of time just relaxing at home and playing with his favorite toys (yes, Julia, he still loves the tire!)...

Dakota with a tire toy in front of a green bush

Dakota giving Beth his paw Guide dog puppies are NOT supposed to "shake hands"!...and, I promise I did not teach him this! I mentioned it to Sarah, Willie's trainer, once...she said, "Oh yes, all our doodles have done that! We call it 'the paw of love.'" Then she gave me some helpful tips for how to discourage it. After all, if you couldn't see, you really wouldn't want your dog doing this randomly. He could spill your drink...knock you off balance...who knows what. But eventually, when Dakota left the guide dog program, I just gave up. So here he is, giving me his solemn pawshake that he'll do his best and make us proud!

Probably the top question/comment that we puppyraisers hear is, "But how do you give them up?" or just flat, "I could never give them up!" Of course, they're right, it's no cakewalk. But honestly, how many worthwhile things in life are easy? The people who eventually receive these dogs are amazing individuals who have decided not to let their physical setbacks define their lives. They inspire me...and I am so happy that I can help!

We'll definitely miss Dakota, but I'm not the slightest bit sad for him. He's got a fabulous, loving home, a family who needs him, and a job he loves. He'll do great! It's bittersweet. But we're so, so very proud.

When Michelle came to get him he was ready...brushed to within an inch of his life and all bursting with excitement.

Dakota looks out from Michelle's car, fur shining in the sun

"OK, Michelle, what are we waiting for?"

Dakota enjoys a last friendly pat as he waits in the car

A last pat from Katharine...

Dakota smiles to his family as Michelle gets ready to drive away

...and he's off! We love you, Duckie!

Starting Monday the 16th, Dakota embarks on a 3-week intensive training program with his new handler. The first portion is in residence at the GDTx center. Then they'll move on to work in his home and daily routes.

I've withheld personal information about Duckie's new family in order to respect their privacy...BUT...there is a rumor going around that his new partner might be starting a blog of his own!! If so, I will most definitely post a link here so that you can keep up with them. They'll be quite a team, that's for sure!

Also, Michelle all but promised me a few photos from their training, so you certainly need to keep checking back for that also...

...AND...of course you'll want to stay tuned for new doodle puppy updates!

And so life goes on. The house seems empty and I miss the squishy doodle nose in my face every morning. But I wouldn't have it any other way, and Dakota's doing what he was born to do. That's what it's all about!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Improvise, roll with it, go with the flow. Pretty good mottoes because, let's face it, I have yet to meet the day that turned out just as I thought it would. Case in point: Michelle had asked me to take Duckie on a bus this week for one of our walks, as his new schedule will include regular bus rides. No problem, we know the drill, so I just went online, grabbed the city bus schedule, drove downtown & parked near a bus stop where we'd be able to catch a familiar route -- a convenient loop. Of course, assistant trainers Charissa & Katharine were along just for fun.

But alas, on arriving at our stop we saw a sign that bus schedules had been cut back, and the one we'd planned on taking wasn't running til the evening. So, yeah, those online schedules aren't all they're cracked up to be! Not to be so easily deterred, we figured that as long as we were downtown, by george, we were going to ride a bus. Any bus. After all, it's not like we were actually trying to get anywhere! Here we are, 3 people and a dog who are all fond of walking, so I just decided we'd get on one, ride it as far as we were willing to go, then walk back to the car if we had to. And that's just what we did.

Duckie was bursting with eagerness to board, and once we'd found a seat he tucked in nicely. People's reactions to him were interesting. As usual he created quite a sensation, which as usual he ignored, settling in for a relaxed ride. Good dog! The guy across the aisle struck up a long, and I do mean long, conversation about service dogs and other assorted topics. Amazing how with Dakota along, I never have a shortage of people to talk to! In the end, though, I was just ready for a break so finally at an opportune stop I nodded to the kids, stood up, and we all exited.

Serendipitously, it just so happened that we got off right at Chipotle, one of our favorite places to eat. Couldn't have worked out better if we'd planned it!

Who, me, bring a dog in the restaurant? What dog?

Oh...that dog!

Fortified by chicken tacos, the girls and I were ready for the long trek back to the car. Busy traffic, a construction zone, folks walking their pet dogs, and of course the random person making silly noises at him...Dakota took it all in stride. All in all, it was a very fun day, and a good exercise in improvisation.

Dakota is due to leave our home for the last time this weekend, and then it's on to official classes with his new person! He's definitely more enthusiastic about his scent work than ever. When he alerts he gets very excited and proud, more so than with anything else we've taught him. I know it'll take time to transfer over from working with scent samples to real life work, but he's ready for the transition.

And it probably doesn't take too much to figure out what the next step is for our family. Of course, another guide dog puppy! We got to meet these six adorable puppies at Dixie's Doodles for their 5-week test last Saturday (forgot my camera, can you believe it?!) Here's a link where you can see them all...which one do you think is volunteering to be the next guide dog?

We won't know for sure which one it'll be until after their 7-week test. But if all goes well, one of them should come home with us after Thanksgiving! We are so excited. I'm sure the new puppy will have potential and personality all its own for us to discover. I have a feeling we'll have plenty of new opportunities to improvise!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hi from Dakota

So, everybody, what have you been up to lately? Whatever it is, I bet I can top it! First off, I spent a day working at the training center with all the other guide dog puppies. We had to do a bunch of obedience work and training exercises to help us pups get used to doing our work even with other dogs around. Mom said I was way too excited and needed to settle down...and I (eventually) did!

The first game was kind of like musical chairs, only with hula hoops. We were given a limited time to go from one hula hoop to the next, trying to ignore all our doggy buddies, and get ourselves sitting politely before time was up. Tougher than it sounds, believe me!

Next we had to practice "tucking in," like service dogs have to do in buses and other tight quarters. It was a lot easier for me than some of those big guys, but we all did it...even giant Jethro!

We also practiced getting on and off a "bus," which was really just chairs set up in close formation. Other than poking the person in front of me with my nose (for some reason people don't like that, go figure!), I did pretty well.

The most challenging real-life situation was at lunchtime, when the puppy raisers had to go through a buffet line and fix their plates with one hand, while keeping us dogs under control with the other. When I saw Twist on the other side of the table, I was tempted to just make a grab at her, but Mom was pretty determined that wasn't going to happen. Oh well!

The other pups got to play when we were done, but since I start class with my new human in just a few days, there was NO way our boss, Michelle, was going to take a chance on something happening to me. I had to sit out. As if those dogs could even catch me! Believe me, I was pretty upset about that. But I forgave her when she gave me a bunch of new treats. She says they're supplements for healthy joints, but she's gotta be confused...they're definitely dog candy!

Look what else is new...I've got a brand new designer outfit! Since I'll be doing diabetic alert work instead of guide work, I've got a wardrobe of tan jackets that say "GDTX SERVICE DOG" on them. Pretty awesome, don't you think? The webbing is a nifty desert camo print, and a chest piece is being designed to go with it that will say, "I'M WORKING." Plus, since they're custom-made for me, I've finally got clothes that fit! I used to embarrass my family by scratching at my old jackets in public...but you would scratch at your clothes too, if they were made for someone twice your size!
I don't have any pictures of the whole next week, because my family went on vacation without me and I got to visit different people while they were gone. I started off at the good old Greenwood School with my friend Tracy...she doesn't have a guide dog puppy of her own right now so I filled in as best I could, helping her stir up -- wait, I mean look after -- all those cute little munchkins who come over every day.

Next, it was off to Michelle's house. Let me tell you, that Michelle lady works...hard! It was go, go, go all the time. She really kept me busy. We had work, and walks, and meetings, and I even got an "assessment" from our head trainer (I couldn't tell it from a regular walk, but they seemed to think it was important!) Then, when we got home to her pet dogs, I had to take them all in hand and show them who was boss. A tough job, but someone has to do it! By the end of each day I was really exhausted. Fortunately someone must've given Michelle the memo that I sleep on people beds now, so I didn't have any explaining to do.

Michelle is a very discerning person -- almost as smart as a labradoodle, I'd say. She finally figured out what I've been trying to explain to my family all along...I much prefer eating from a plate! Sensitive doodle ears like mine HATE annoying noises, and the tinny jingle of my kibbles rattling around a ceramic bowl is just like nails on a chalkboard to me. Who can eat with all that racket? One night she just poured my food out on the floor and I ate it all up and even wanted more! So now I get to eat out of paper plates. They're nice and quiet, and my ears don't touch the sides. Finally, someone who understands me!

But let me tell you, it was great to get home yesterday and see my family again. I've got one last week with them before I head off for my new work and new people. But first...

...time for a looooooooooong nap!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Counting Down

Just a few more weeks to go until Dakota graduates from our house to join his new family. They'll train together at the GDTx center, followed by more customized training in their home location and daily routes...just like any client receiving a guide dog! I'm so excited about that.

I'm less than excited, I'll admit, about the actual goodbye! Dakota's last week here will probably be the first week of November, and since we have some family travel planned between now and then, his time with us is even shorter. It really seems to me that the more ups and downs you share with a puppy, the more invested you are in his future and the tougher it can be to turn over the leash. We've been through so much with this guy...remember back when he was a guide dog puppy? That just seems ages ago now! In the last couple of months our lives have changed so much as we've researched Type I diabetes, diabetic alert dogs, and scent training. We've learned a lot in such a short time, kind of like Dakota!

But despite goodbyes, I'm so eager to see him at work in his new job that honestly, I'm looking forward to it too...albeit with butterflies in my stomach! And while we're counting down here, I imagine his new handler is counting down too. I can't imagine what that must feel like!

It's a's a, it's Super Duck!