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Saturday, August 29, 2009

What's Your MPH?

No, we're not talking about miles per hour! It's just become a family joke that Dakota gets very low mph, or "miles per hug." A big cuddler, he needs (or at least wants!) constant refills of hugs and pats to keep him going. Of course since no one seems to mind obliging him, I guess you could say it works out pretty well!

After a hectic week accompanying us everywhere from the orthodontist's office, to the mall, to the grocery store (and all points in between), Dakota got another brand new experience on Saturday: attending a GDTx speakers' workshop.

No, we're not teaching him to "speak" -- that will be my job! There were at least half a dozen other dogs in the classroom when we walked in -- all working guides. Dakota was so excited that he began to pull and whine and even barked a couple of times. I took him to the back and we did a little obedience work together, which helped to settle him down. Then we found a seat, and he was really quite good for the rest of the two-hour meeting, apart from a little more whining at the start when a guide dog and his person came and sat right in front of us. But he settled in with the help of occasional reminders from me and a few well-timed pieces of liver! Afterward, his reward was getting some hugs and attention from several of the folks who had come to the meeting. It was fun to see some of our GDTx friends and get to know a few new people as well.
One more picture for you to enjoy...just look at the beautiful GDTx vehicle with all those handsome guide dogs emblazoned all over it!

...and who might that be, larger than life, right on the door in front?

You bet, that's Dakota! He was a pretty cute baby, you have to admit. Of course we got a huge kick out of seeing OUR puppy driving up! Hopefully this vehicle gets better fuel economy than Dakota's famously low "mph"...although Katharine has pointed out that to make up for it, Duckie's mpk (miles per kibble) is extremely high!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dog Days of Summer

Well, the weather news says we've logged somewhere around 60 days of 100-degree-plus weather here in Central Texas, but hey, who can keep track any more? After a while it all just runs together in a sort of feverish blur. Here are a few tips from Duckie on keeping cool:

#1: Pant. Pant a lot.

#2: Find a cool place to lie down and rest.

#3: See #2. (This is Dakota's patented cool-down pose, "The Roadkill.")

#4: Try to stay in air-conditioned places. The dairy aisle is great.

#5: When your people are looking the other way...sneak out and run under the sprinkler! With any luck you'll get a bit muddy and they'll have to hose you off before bringing you back inside...heh heh heh!

Happy dog days, everyone!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Is He Real?"

...that's the question I keep hearing from people. You'd be surprised how many times we hear it, from both kids and grownups. In fact, just this week three different people asked us that. This is not a question I ever heard while raising Willie (yellow lab)...not even once! Apparently, Willie was "real." Dakota? Hmmm, that's another question!

I always just answer, "Yes," (I mean, obviously!) but to be honest I'm a bit puzzled by what they mean. I should just ask them next time. Here are some options the kids and I came up with -- feel free to leave a comment and let us know what you think!

1) Is that a real guide dog? (Or, are you just dressing up your pet?)

2) Is that a real dog? (Or...I don't know...a very convincing stuffed animal?)

3) Am I seeing things? Is he an optical illusion? (Maybe there are some really philosophical types out there!)

And now, something we were glad wasn't "real"! One of the new places we visited this week was a sports store. I was looking for some exercise equipment. We rounded the corner and came face-to-face with...

...possibly the meanest-looking man Dakota had ever seen! Dakota was really put off by the angry look on his face (a bit hard to see from this angle) least, that's what I think it was. Mannequins don't normally throw him for a loop, and I don't think the missing arms had anything to do with it. When I touched it and showed him it was all right, he consented to sniff it but you could tell he was still suspicious. I gave him a treat for being brave, but as you can see in the picture, he ate it without ever letting his eyes off that guy. Finally, as we were moving away, some little boys came up behind us and started punching another punching bag...and then the "mean man." Dakota looked back as much as if to say, "There, see? They agree with me! That guy is dangerous!"

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Moving On!

The great thing about going through a tough time is that you realize how wonderful friends can be. Thanks to all the friends and family who've been so sympathetic about Dakota's situation. You're the greatest!

Meanwhile, life moves on, and we're happy to move on too! I have to say that the more I learn about Dakota's prospective new service dog job, the more excited I am about it. I really think his temperament and training make him very well suited to the new work. And while some of his guide-dog-specific skills won't be needed, all the obedience training will really pay off. He already knows so much about being a service dog, and working in public in all sorts of situations. He'll have to adapt to a new handler and new skills, but I'm sure he'll enjoy the challenge.

Since we've still got Dakota for the time being, we're keeping up with his training and our routine is pretty much the same as usual. He still goes just about everywhere with us, and enjoys it immensely. He's matured a lot. This is the fun part of puppy raising, and it goes by way too fast...getting to enjoy the nice, well-behaved dog you've worked for all this time!

Okay, everyone loves a funny story, so here's one from this week. Saturday morning, we headed to the airport to pick Tim up from a business trip. I saw him walking out of the terminal from a distance, but Duckie's view was obstructed by a low wall. Motioning "shh!," Tim sat down on the wall, very still, back to Dakota, so that we'd walk right past him. When we got up by him, Duckie was being so good at paying attention to me that at first he didn't notice Tim at all. Fighting back a chuckle, I told Dakota to "sit," and all of a sudden his little nose started twitching overtime! He jumped up and started wagging his tail in circles (that's what he does when he's really happy), still not looking up, just sniffing. I let him turn around and he followed his nose until he ran--bam!--right into Tim's legs. Ooh, he was excited! It was pretty funny to watch!

Not sure if they were laughing with me or at me...but, hey, who cares?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Heartbreak...and Hope

Absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the news we received on Saturday.

Michelle came over and tried her best to break it to us gently;
but there is really no way to soften the blow delivered by the
news that your wonderful puppy has just completely failed his
hip x-rays. There was nothing borderline about it; Dakota's
hip scores were way beyond the acceptable tolerance, putting
him at high risk for developing dysplasia. Guide work in harness
is a physically demanding job and it would not be fair to expect
him to do this.

Utter disbelief was my first reaction. I had to be assured that there had been no mistake -- in fact, multiple opinions had already been obtained from specialists around the country on his results, and no, the lab didn't mix up his films with someone else's. But it still seemed implausible to me. After all, Dakota has never exhibited any of the lameness or stiffness associated with hip problems. He runs like a deer and is one of the most agile and athletic dogs I've seen! His breeder goes above and beyond what many breeders consider the standard requirements, thoroughly testing all breeding dogs for a variety of inheritable disorders -- hip problems included. But sadly, human knowledge can only go so far. Despite everything we've done to stack the genetic "cards" in his favor, Dakota just chanced to draw a poor hand. It can happen, and it's really nobody's fault. Now it's up to us to help him make the most of what he's got.

It really is, for me, a kind of grieving process -- a sense of loss. There just aren't words to express how I feel! Dakota is such an exceptional dog and a real joy to train. He's quite good at what we've trained him to do, and so of course it's sad that he can't do it. But the main thing, to me, is just that I don't want anything bad to happen to him.

As it happens, however, this exceptional nature may be the ticket to his future -- a very different one than what we had planned and prepared for, yet a good future all the same. Dakota's natural abilities combined with his extremely easy-going, people-centered personality make him a prime candidate for different, less physical, service dog jobs. He is currently under consideration for this type of "career change" and, since everything's still in the very beginning stages, I can't say any more than that right now. But it's pretty safe to share that, should he succeed in his new task, he would be at least as highly valued and indispensable to his new family as a guide dog is to its partner. With proper veterinary care, a loving home, and a job to do, I think Dakota's future can still be a bright one. Who knows, perhaps he is the answer to someone's prayers!

In the meantime, someone forgot to forward to Dakota the memo that he has bad hips. After working very hard to cheer me up Saturday afternoon (I'm sure he wondered what all the tears were about!), he blew off some steam by going on one of his high-spirited racing sprees, tearing around in giant circles, leaping over obstacles in a single bound, coming back for a quick pat, and then charging off again.

"Do I look like this is gonna stop me?"