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Friday, April 24, 2009

Spring Training

Spring is here! For a switch from all our indoor work, I've taken Taxi on a couple walks this week on hike & bike trails nearby. It's a great place to work on dog distraction...smell distraction...squirrel distraction...children distraction...anyone noticing a theme yet? All this great outdoors business is incredibly exciting to Taxi. So we start out with the "pushups" game, which helps him give me his focus. He'll do almost anything for food!

...And on to our walk. Doesn't he look happy?

On Tuesday, we met up with Michelle for a training walk at Cabela's. That's almost as good as being outside...all those animals everywhere! The first stop was the aquarium. Taxi seemed to enjoy watching the big fish float by.

Then we visited some other displays. This African savannah exhibit freaked out poor Taxi boy. I'm not sure if he was afraid of the animals, or just worried he'd end up as a piece of "Taxi"-dermy.

As a reward for surviving Africa, look who was waiting for us upstairs! Puppy raiser Tracy Schagen was there with her swap puppy, "Zeke," demonstrating a very nice "down-stay." He and Taxi are buddies already, so it was tough for them trying not to play, but I thought they behaved well.

The gallery had a howling coyote...Taxi found that quite interesting! There was also a talking deer head above the door just outside and we were all proud of Taxi for looking up to try and see what was making that noise. Since guide dogs have to be alert for overhead obstacles, it's always nice to see them scanning above as well as below.

In another display area, Michelle found this trophy duster that looked eerily like a squirrel tail. She used it to help the dogs practice "leave it." Taxi would be real still for a while, then when he figured my guard was down -- bam! -- he'd make a lunge for it. I learned quickly to brace myself against the rail. He did settle down eventually. Zeke did so well that by the end Michelle was able to touch him with the duster while he lay nicely on a loose lead. I can't say that Taxi got quite that far, but hey, he's younger...that's my excuse, anyway! It was good training for the dogs, although funny to watch!

Meanwhile, Dakota looks as if he's having so much fun that I don't know whether he'll ever want to come home! The Reimers, who have him during the puppy swap, raised the first GDTx labradoodle, Mason (now in his advanced training). They've had Mason over for a couple of weekends, so Duckie has gotten a lot of playtime in.

...And here's a picture of all three GDTx labradoodles: Dakota, Mason, and Trixie. What a great group! Really gives you a good idea of the size range labradoodles come in, too. Thanks to Dixie Moore of Dixie's Doodles...and to Mary for the pictures!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Cruisin' With Taxi

Well, two weeks into the puppy swap, Taxi is settled right in here. Every morning as soon as he can tell I'm awake, he greets me with the THUMP-THUMP-THUMP of his happy tail hitting the sides of the crate. I keep asking him if that doesn't hurt, but he just gives me a silly grin and ignores the question.

"I'm just a morning person!"

We've been having lots of fun on our walks. We try to take Taxi to lots of different places and he seems to enjoy the interesting new experiences. There are only a few exceptions...for example, although he enjoyed going to Petco, the rodent section really scared him. He tucked his tail, leaned up against my side, and was very eager to leave. On our way out, though, we picked up some dog treats and he forgot all about his fright.

"Ooh, liver flavor!"

For such a large dog, Taxi can really "tuck in" well when we sit down. Since he likes to sit on our feet, it doesn't bother him at all to smoosh in tight places. The cozier the better for Taxi, as long as he's with his people! It's funny sometimes to hear people's reactions when they see us leaving a restaurant, not having noticed he was there until we got up to go.

"Aha! If I sit on her foot she cannot move without setting off the finely tuned Taxi Alert System!"

Meanwhile, what about Dakota? Well, I haven't heard anything recently, but early reports were that he was settling in well too. I expect he's taking things in stride...and, knowing him, making friends wherever he goes! The Reimers sent me these pictures of him in his new digs (er, perhaps I should say dogs are not supposed to dig...) Thanks, Mary & Wes!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

New Puppy, New Problems

Saturday the 4th dawned bright and sunny...a perfect day to drive down to the GDTX center in San Antonio for their 20th anniversary celebration/volunteer appreciation day.
Dakota loved the entire day but was waaay too excited. There were so many wonderful people and dogs there, and he just wanted to meet them all! Not only were all the puppies-in-training there, a number of clients came with their working guides. Amazing the difference that a little (well, OK, a lot!) of training -- and some growing up -- can do! Those working guide dogs were calm as could be. The puppies, on the other hand, were...puppies! This cute little black puppy, "Travis," sat right in front of us. Doesn't he have the sweetest sad eyes?
Dakota had a blast. This clip pretty much sums up what he felt about the day.

Of course he liked it best when he was the center of attention!
Meeting new friends is so much fun.

This was also the day of the puppy swap, where we puppy raisers all pass our pups to a new handler, then take home a different one for the month. It's good for the puppies because it gives them lots of different experiences. Plus, it's just fun. we go!
Dakota went to Mary and Wes Reimer, who have raised several guide dog puppies already. He's in great hands. We'll miss you, Duckie!!

"Taxi" is our new puppy for the month. He's a lab/
golden cross, and a really sweet natured guy. I know, he looks all grown up on the outside, but he's only 12 months old and there's plenty of puppy left on the inside! His handler, Charlie, is raising him through the pawsitive approach prison program (
We had a great afternoon with Taxi and he seemed to settle in once we got back. He did keep very close to me all afternoon and seemed upset when he finally had to go to his bed for the night.

Little did I know how upset he was! He cried, barked, howled, moaned, scratched, and whined all night long. And yes, I do mean literally all night! It's a good thing I'm not a violent person because I got VERY mad that night. I thought of just letting him out, but during the afternoon he'd been so anxious that he'd jumped on the bed several times and I was afraid he'd wind up there again. Or worse, in his current frenzy, I thought he was fully capable of some major property damage. So we left him crated, but finally around 4:30 I escaped to the kids' room for an hour or two of rest before church next day.

Here's how I felt about Taxi in the morning:

In desperation and frustration I called Michelle for some puppy 9-1-1!

At that moment, I would've been happy to give him back and never see another dog in my life. In the afternoon, fellow puppy raiser Tracy came to the rescue and kept Taxi for a few hours while I got a nap and regained some sanity. Michelle gave some useful advice, but just as important, was a sympathetic listener to my ranting. That really helped.

Sunday night, doped up on benadryl (the dog, I mean, not me!) and a little more settled in, Taxi slept all night long. After 8 hours of rest, I was a new person too. I'm happy to say that he's crating well now, even without medication. Which is good, because I would've been the one needing medication otherwise! He does fuss a bit, but he realizes now that it's not going to get him anything, so he gives up after a couple of minutes.

We're actually getting on well together now, and I'm getting pretty attached to him. Maybe that's because he's decided to become so attached to me! Taxi likes to be as close as possible to his people (preferably touching) at all times. If he were a person, he'd be the one always saying things like, "Let's all hold hands!" or, "Group hug!" He likes it when everybody sits together and he can lay on all our feet at once.

Our walks are going pretty well too. He's a big, strong dog and can really pull if he wants to. But so far he feels more comfortable encountering new situations close by my side.

We've worked on overheads...

encountered barking dogs...

...and braved plenty of screaming children.

I think Taxi's going to do just fine.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Just Having Fun

Who says guide dogs don't have fun? Some-
times people I meet say they feel sorry for Dakota, having to work so hard. What they don't realize is how much he loves his work. He's such a smart boy, and he's very proud when he learns new things! You can see it in his wagging tail and jaunty trot. He gets to go everywhere with us...but at the end of the day he can play just as hard as any other dog. Today after work he enjoyed some time with the kids at the church playground.

"Watch out, I'm comin' after you..."

"Tag, you're it!"

"Helloooo down there..."

For Duckie, any game that involves liver treats is a good game.

The tunnel is a nice cool spot to rest.

"It's not time to go yet, is it? We're still having fun!"

If we all enjoyed our work and our play as much as a guide dog, the world would probably be a better place!