Thursday, April 22, 2010

1st litter of puppies has arrived

Just found out that the first litter of puppies at Ridgeview that we're looking at was born on the 20th. There are 5 puppies, three boys and two girls, all yellow. I have arranged with Sue Alexander to fly down here the first or second weekend of June to temperament test this litter. I want another yellow Lab so I'm planning to have her look only at yellow puppies.
Having spent the last four years talking to service dog trainers and handlers, going to the service dog seminar each year, watching the few related DVDs, reading whatever I can find in books, on websites and on Yahoo lists as well as training and handling my own service dog, I have come to realize that there was a large amount of dumb luck involved with Laurel becoming a successful service dog. Besides her allergies, she is a high drive dog from working lines who has little natural self-control. We began working on that as soon as we got her at 8 weeks - she worked for all her food, we worked very hard on "leave it", she had to wait before coming out of her crate or going through doorways etc. 
Since I knew that I would want her to pick up and bring all kinds of things to me, I never told her no when she did. I simply swapped it for a treat or for a little game using one of her toys. We did have an agreement that she wouldn't take anything off the top of a table although one of our cats, Maggie, would regularly knock things onto the floor so that Laurel could bring them to me. Generally, not discouraging Laurel from bringing anything she found on the floor to me has worked beautifully. Everyone in the family got better about not leaving things laying around and instead of finding something and running off to eat it, Laurel would proudly present it to me. She will pick up just about anything of any different type of material (in fact, she is a huge fan of carrying scissors for me and she does so by the metal blades). One day, she started bringing me index cards one at a time. After getting about 15 of them, I got up to find out where she was getting them and discovered a package of them that had been left on the floor when someone got something out of a file cabinet. Apparently Laurel realized she would get more bringing them to me one at a time than if she brought the entire pack. Some time later, she attempted the same thing with post-it notes which didn't work out nearly as well but was fun watching her try. 
The only part of our informal retrieving program I would consider changing with the next puppy would be to use management to stop him from taking things off table tops instead of making him think he isn't supposed to. Laurel is still reluctant to take things off tables even though there are times when I need her to. 
I will also teach the puppy an "automatic leave it" right away. Originally, I taught Laurel to leave things because I asked her to and had to go back to retrain her for an automatic one when she was about two. It should be much easier to do that right off. 
The biggest change, however, will be in the selection of the puppy. I don't think I should count on dumb luck this time around and I'd like it to be easier for both of us. I love Laurel's personality and mostly enjoy her enthusiasm and friendliness but I also realize that it makes it harder for her doing public access. I have every confidence that I could pick another "Laurel" by myself and although she definitely has a bunch of traits I would want in a puppy, there are also some major differences - like amount of natural self control and having less drive. Since I have complete confidence that Sue knows what temperament traits will work for me and my needs as well as being appropriate for public access, I have asked her to come and help me pick my puppy. I believe she will be using a test developed by Suzanne Clothier, which is, apparently, the first one that accurately predicts the puppy as an adult and is being used by one of the big guide dog programs already.

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