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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Life With Dakota

Dakota's loving work, as usual. He's never been a big fan of the jacket, but he loves what it stands for: a walk! He used to roll around on the floor when we put it on, but now he kind of does a happy dance interspersed with...well...what would you call this?

Pretty funny! I don't know if we're actually supposed to let him do this or not. But usually he stops in a couple of minutes and runs to sit nicely by the door and wait for me. If I don't get ready soon enough, he gets a bit depressed, like in the picture below.

"Aren't we ever going to leave?"

In other news, Duckie got another haircut. Poor puppy was just way too hot. I'm not the best doodle trimmer but his jacket covers the little mistakes!

"I don't need much fur to be cute!"

I had a proud moment this week when we had to go downtown to wait in line at the passport office and Dakota accompanied us. Actually it was more than a moment...more like an hour and a half or so! It was a teeny little room jam-packed with people and Dakota was a trooper through the boredom of the wait, resisting the urge to lick toes or play with kids. We had the chance to chat with quite a few interested (and no doubt bored!) people. The presence of a well-behaved dog seemed to distract folks from the frustration of the wait and I actually think he had a bit of a calming effect on the room! Comments were interesting. "He looks just like a teddy bear!" seemed to be the consensus.

Hope everyone had a great 4th. With it being Independence Day, it makes me happy to think of the increased independence and mobility Dakota will one day bring to his new partner!

Happy Birthday, America!

P.S. When I posted this blog, Duckie must've been eavesdropping. He heard the "ready to go for a walk?" from the video clip and rushed up in great excitement. Poor guy, he's a bit disappointed now!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer School

Well, folks, the word is that Dakota's slated to head in for advanced training sometime around the end of this summer! Like an anxious parent with a kid headed for college, my mind is full of questions. Is he ready? Has he learned what he needs to know? What holes does he need to fill in between now and then?

With the weather so incredibly hot (we've had 13 days in the triple digits so far this summer), Dakota has been getting plenty of indoor malls, big box stores, office buildings, and the like. So, naturally, I'm concerned that he also gets enough work around the distractions of neighborhoods and city streets. To cover those bases while avoiding heatstroke, you pretty much have to be out walking before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m. Today, we're out in the evening.

After indulging in his usual "Oh-we're-going-on-a-walk-I'm-SO-EXCITED!" rolling and snorting all over the living room rug, Duckie calms down enough to wait by the door for me. I get my liver treats and i.d. badge, and we head off. It's nice to have such an enthusiastic student!

Right off we have a bit of overhead work. Duckie doesn't yet reliably stop for overhead obstacles, such as these branches, on his own. But he's quick to stop, sit, and "watch!" when I point them out. Sometimes I get the feeling he thinks I'm a bit compulsive with pointing out branches all the time.

"I know, Mom, I've seen that before! Let's get on with walking!"

Now we're back on our way. I'm happy with his relaxed attitude and responsiveness.

What was that? A loose dog across the street playing with a bunch of kids is a huge distraction. We practice "sit" and "down" (left, below) until I know he's listening to me again. Then we move on. He walks nicely, but you can tell in the picture (right, below) that his head is still pointed toward the group across the street! Well, as long as he's behaving, I guess that's okay.

Next obstacle: a car parked at the end of the drive, blocking our path. Of course Dakota knows we have to go around. There's not enough room for both of us to the left, so he goes right. Good move.

As we get around the car and head back to the sidewalk, Dakota remembers to wait with his toes on the curb for me to step up. Good dog!

We reach the end of the street and turn on a busy road. It's important that guide dogs be able to take traffic in stride, and I think Dakota's doing pretty well with that. He doesn't love the noise or anything, but it doesn't alarm him. We practice more obedience with cars, trucks, and buses whizzing by.

...well, it's not exactly glamorous work, is it? But piece by piece, I think his training is coming together.

I'm going to sign off today by saying thanks to the great folks at the Austin Public Library, especially the Pleasant Hill Branch! We're in there fairly often with Dakota, and they're always so positive and encouraging toward his training. Hmmm, looks like Dakota even picked a book to check out while we were there! Let's see...what's that title?


...Do you think he's trying to tell us something? Keep up the hard work, Dakota, and maybe we'll believe you!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Making Progress

Before today's walk with Michelle, our Puppy Program Manager & training guru, Dakota had to get a nice grooming. We comb out every-
trim hair between pads...

do his nails...

..and of course his whiskers. What a pampered life! Now we're ready to go.

We meet at Petco. Dakota notices all the adoption dogs out front and is moderately excited. Then he notices...ZEKE! Tracy Schagen and her guide dog in training, Zeke, are meeting us too.

This is almost too much for Duckie to handle. He wants to play so bad! He KNOWS he can't play with the other dogs, but Zeke is his buddy!

After a couple corrections I thought we were calm enough to circle back around and come a bit closer. Oops, not so fast!

Duckie made a quick left turn and flying leap. Not quite what we're supposed to look like, is it?

We have a little heart-to-heart and work on attention. Like most of puppy raising, this takes time. Lots of time! Slowly, we move forward.

...It takes a while, but look what we achieved! Two calm dogs, relaxed, right next to each other without any whining or silly behavior.

Time for a little distraction work. Tracy does her best to get the puppies excited...they're interested of course, but are learning self-control. It's so important for these dogs to learn to focus and ignore tempting distractions in harness. Someday all too soon, someone's safety will depend on it! Both Zeke and Dakota are eager to please so that helps.

Now for the walk-by. Do you think Dakota can walk by Zeke calmly on a loose lead without trying to lunge at him, lick, bark or whine?

Way to go! Dakota, we knew you could do it!

My homework assignment is to keep my commands and interventions to an absolute minimum so that Dakota is making the choice to do the right thing on his own. It's great to see him starting to grow up and, hopefully, take responsibility for his work!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Calling All iPhone Users

Have I got a deal for you! You know you've always secretly wished to be a puppy raiser like us...but don't relish the idea of all those sleepless nights and long training walks.
Well, here you go! Get on that information highway, head over to the iPhone App Store and download Pocket Puppy Raiser. It's all gain, no pain...for just $2.99 (less than the cost of a single puppy toy) you get your very own virtual guide dog puppy, guaranteed not to chew up the furniture. Guide Dogs of Texas gets a dollar for every download. What could be better?

Have fun and feel free to leave Dakota a comment on how your virtual guide dog puppy is faring!

For more information, check out this link to a news story on the web app and its development:

Dakota's had a busy week. While our family went out of town for a few days, he got to stay at the Travis County Jail as part of the Pawsitive Approach Program. I think he wore himself out playing with Travis, the other puppy there....he's pretty wiped out! But we're settling back in now and getting back to work.

Tail wags to all!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Chicken Run

Today we took Dakota back to Tracy's house to work on his behavior around chickens. First we let him have some playtime with the other dogs to run off his excess energy. In addition to Zeke, another guide dog puppy-in-training, Tracy was taking care of Jazz, a working guide dog. And of course Dixie the dachshund was there to supervise.

After a while, we headed out to the chicken coop.

I was prepared for the worst, but the whole event turned out a bit anticlimactic. The chickens took one look at Dakota and were having none of that! Probably they were all having flashbacks to his last visit... One brave soul ran past us to the dish of corn, but the rest skirted behind the coop to the bushes, so there was really no close confrontation. Dakota was excited, but remained responsive to "sit" and "down," so to me it felt like a step in the right direction.

After that, Tracy let the chickens out in the yard and we experimented with putting Dakota on a 26-foot flexi-leash. That way I could practice recall and obedience while giving him a bit more freedom. He tried to chase, but quickly saw that wasn't going to be possible. He became responsive again and hung out with us in the shade, content to watch the chickens --perhaps a bit too alertly -- from a distance.

I still think it would be crazy to trust him off-lead around chickens, but I was happy to see that on the leash his behavior seems to be manageable. We'll have to keep practicing, but I'd definitely call it a good day!

Here's a picture of all 4 dogs practicing obedience with a "down."

After putting the dogs on "down," Tracy walked around the group, treats in her hand, while they waited nicely. Can you tell which ones in this bunch like their food the most? They're riveted on those treats, aren't they? Duckie's kind of staring into space, waiting for the "go free" command.

Have a great week, everyone, and remember to think of us the next time you have chicken for dinner!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Thank You, Highland Park Elementary

Dakota would like to give a shout out to Dawn Bohls and the awesome Fifth Grade Safety Patrol at Highland Park Elementary in north Austin! You rock! We had a really fun time sharing about Guide Dogs of Texas with the group, and afterward they asked some of the best and smartest questions we've heard so far about guide dogs and puppy raising. Thank you for letting us come!

It was a really great training experience for Dakota, since he has never been inside a public school before. He was very excited by all the children (he loves children!) but aside from a little extra pulling on the leash I thought he did well.

Here he is in the office waiting for me to get signed in. Doesn't he look like a bobblehead in this picture?

He really wanted to go to the nurse's office and cuddle with the kids in there, but I told him that might not be such a good plan. He just smiled at them instead.

Have a great summer, everyone!