Monday, November 28, 2011

Come to see us at

To those of you following my blog and anyone else who has found "From Puppy to Public Access", I'll be moving over to my new blog, "From Public Access and Beyond" ( Please come over and follow me and my two comedians, Laurel and Hardy there!
Bye for now,

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

We've achieved public access and so much more!

Sorry I haven't written in so long ... we've been busy: Hardy's been learning some new tasks & skills and going all sorts of places with me while Laurel & I have been competing, mostly in agility with a bit of C-WAGS rally thrown in. 
First, before I write about all we've been doing, I guess this is my last post on this blog. When I created it, I intended for it to chronicle our journey from finding a puppy through the public access test. Since Hardy just passed a tough public access test with flying colors, he has reached that point. I'll be putting up another blog, "From Public Access and Beyond" to chronicle the rest of my journey with both Laurel & Hardy. Although I have included Laurel in this blog, it was intended to be primarily about Hardy, the puppy & adolescent service dog prospect. My next blog will pick up my adventure with Laurel, now 5 1/2 years old and Hardy, 19 1/2 months old. I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have two service dogs working so well as a team. If one of them alerts, the other doesn't bother. If I'm not doing well and one of them is with me, the other one is off sleeping or resting or playing. Then they will swap activities. 
When I decided to look for my next service dog prospect, I was hoping that Laurel could teach that next dog to alert and Hardy now does alerts that are as reliable and accurate as Laurel's! I also hoped that the two dogs could work together, allowing each of them to have time off when he/she wasn't focused on me. Laurel and Hardy have become the most remarkable team - they have accomplished everything I had hoped they would and much more than I actually expected! 
Since I last wrote, our daughter, Kristen came to visit with her Pointer, Soapy! They were with us for 3 weeks filled with dog activities, running errands and time spent together! Soapy enjoyed coming to my classes but he absolutely loved the foundation agility classes! He was fearless on the contact equipment, figured out how to duck down to get into the tunnel and was doing some sequences before they headed on their way to NYC. Kristen came with us one day of an AKC agility trial. Laurel and I had an Open JWW Q and she jumped off the A-Frame in Standard. 
Although I still intentionally leave Hardy home at times, especially when Brent is going out with me, he has been going to restaurants, a factory (Invacare, which made my wheelchair), the mall, the library, the doctor's and all sorts of other places. He is really easy to have with me and without fail, I am so proud to be his partner and to be representatives for the other service dog teams that will follow us!
We've also been working on his retrieve and carry skills. He doesn't hesitate to pick up all types of materials (wood, metal, plastic, cloth etc) and he willingly carries things that are relatively heavy. He can pick up a piece of paper or a coin from the floor but we're still working on the delivery - his ability to put it into my hand without me having to reach for it. We are continuing to name items and he is getting better at correctly picking them out from the others. We are working on his tugging for tug-related tasks and that is coming along nicely. I'm grateful that I have Laurel who can do the tasks I need for me and I was able to enjoy Hardy's puppyhood (and let him have a puppyhood without being pushed) and didn't feel stressed over his adolescence. Now that he is growing up physically and mentally, we are working on more service dog tasks, competitive rally and obedience skills and agility!
Laurel & I also tried competing in USDAA agility. We NQ'd in Standard & Pairs Relay due to our contact issue but had a clean run in Jumpers. Unfortunately, we were half a second over time and NQ'd. We had a blast though and might try that venue again.
At the end of October, Laurel and I participated in an agility seminar on doing distance and layering. It was great and we're hoping to get to do a seminar based on this one and going to the next level. We also competed in a C-WAGS trial. Laurel won the Zoom 1 class with a score of 100 and Hardy came in 3rd with a 96. Laurel also finished her ARF title - she now has every C-WAGS rally title (Starter, Advanced, Pro, Zoom 1, Zoom 2, and ARF). 
The first weekend, we were back to agility - CPE agility. We continued to struggle with Laurel's lack of A-Frame contact - you can't get a Q in standard without it! The frustrating part is that she has a two on - two off contact in class or at run-thrus. It's just the excitement of a trial - mine, hers and the general excitement! We have finished 3 of the 4 sub-titles that make up Level 2 (just the standard title to go) and have moved onto Level 3, which is much more advanced. We had a blast at the trial even though we didn't get lots of Qs! Hardy, too, had fun running through the meadows and woods around the training hall with Brent! 
November 12th, Hardy and I did the Delta therapy dog test and he passed with perfect scores! The next day, he participated in rally and agility demos at our training hall, Canine Affair's Open House. Laurel participated too! And then a couple days later, he took his Public Access Test and passed it with flying colors too! 
Then this past weekend, Laurel and I competed in an ASCA agility trial. A friend, Judy, who I met doing AKC agility suggested we try ASCA because you are allowed to train in the ring. On Saturday, we worked on the A-Frame and Dogwalk contacts, got one Novice Gambler's Q and got two Novice Jumper's Q's for the Novice Jumpers title (JS-N). Sunday, she didn't miss one contact and we repeated the A-Frame and Dogwalk as much as we could during Gamblers. She got two Novice Regular (Standard) Q's, winning the classes and one Open Jumpers Q. We had a terrific time, got some Q's, a title and 11 nice placements and plan to go back whenever ASCA has trials in Washingtonville! And now I feel more confident about being able to handle her contacts, handling options and issues as well as her increased speed in a trial environment! And once again, Hardy loved running through the fields and woods!
So now, I've had a minute to consider that I have 2 service dogs! Hardy does more than enough tasks to be my legitimate service dog and his public access work is pretty much beyond reproach. The day after tomorrow is Thanksgiving and among the many things for which I am grateful are my two comedians, Laurel and Hardy. Laurel gave me the gifts of alerting and then she taught Hardy to do it too. She also helped me teach Hardy so many other valuable things about being a well-behaved young man and a wonderful service dog! Hardy has benefited from all that I learned with Laurel and he has a really wonderful temperament for the work he is doing. I'm glad to see how much easier it is for him! It's an amazing gift to watch them work together and I feel very blessed to have the luxury of two working service dogs with me right now!
I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving! I'll be back with my new blog, "From Public Access and Beyond" along with new photos and videos some time next week. I'm looking forward to continuing to write about both my amazing Labs and then, who knows? At some point in the future (3 1/2 years from now?), we should be searching for the next right puppy to raise with the help of Laurel & Hardy. For now, I have no idea on a name (Abbott, Costello?) or color. Should we do black so we can have one of each? I'd like a nice red Lab myself even though I know we won't select based on color (otherwise I'd have two yellow Labs right now)! Anyway, I hope you'll join us in our future adventures from public access and beyond!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hardy & I have been busy!

Hardy and I have been busy this month. We spent the Labor Day weekend in Toledo at an AKC Agility trial. Hardy still doesn't get to compete and it was very hot and humid but he had a blast running around a meadow with his Border Collie friends, Xen and Jett. We also went for some walks and he got to visit at the trials. We worked on attention and some behaviors amidst all the distractions too. There was a very short ramp between the crating area and the soccer fields area (it was at an indoor soccerplex) - the difference in height was less than 6 inches. Hardy decided he did not like the ramp and wasn't going to use the ramp (which was no problem because he could get up right next to it) but of course, we have to use ramps all the time so I didn't want to ignore his refusal. I got out the clicker and we succeeded in having him throw himself onto the ramp whenever we got near it! 
The last day in Toledo the weather changed and it's been much cooler ever since! As a result, we go for more walks and enjoy more time outside. I'm working with someone who has a SDiT that was attacked as a puppy by a big dog resulting in some reactivity issues. We meet at a local MetroPark to sit and watch the world go by while my husband handles Hardy. It's terrific because he is such a nonreactive, neutral young man. Brent walks him past at a distance and then depending on what the other dog can handle, he brings Hardy closer and closer. 
When we cooked something at high heat in our top oven with resulted in smoke from the drippings, we discovered that Hardy really doesn't like smoke! He put himself in his crate and wasn't even interested in eating dinner in the kitchen. We cleared the air and he came back out but I'm pretty sure I don't want to be caught in a fire with him since I'm not sure he would be very helpful. 
We're still taking our agility class - I demoted Hardy back to the foundations class when he lost some motivation and enthusiasm for the jumps (they have never been his thing - he loves tunnels and the contacts). We went back to clicking the jumps and he is jumping with more confidence and enthusiasm than ever! And since the foundations class is much smaller, we're having a great time! 
We're working to relearn and refine many of the behaviors Hardy forgot in adolescence. Although he is a natural retriever, he has forgotten about bringing the items to me and his default position being the down gets in the way with his ability to reach my hand. Because he is so different than Laurel, I am having to learn how to train these behaviors all over again!
I met an engineer from Invacare at an agility trial in August. He had me bring my power chair in last week so that he could fix the "fluttering" of the front and back wheels (they "flutter" from side to side which makes a terrible noise, uses up energy and rattles the chair - I have to slow down or stop to make the fluttering stop). It's amazing to not have to worry about that anymore - my husband commented on how much more confident I am working the dogs in rally and obedience. Today I get to try it in agility and tomorrow, Hardy and I go back to spend the day at Invacare while John rebuilds my chair back to "like new" condition! I'm thrilled since I absolutely love my chair - a TDX 5 with brushless motors that is almost 7 years old now. 
Friday, Brent, Hardy and I met some friends at Panera for lunch. The tables are small and close together with no room to get Hardy under the table. We found him a space at the end of the table next to the aisle where everyone came into the room. He did a great job! He kept his eye on a potato chip laying on the floor and he did want to help when someone dropped a water bottle on the floor but, we were there for more than two hours and he was very patient. 
Then on Saturday, we went to Village Peddler, a craft show, at Lake FarmPark with our friend, Rob and his daughter, Hanna. Hardy loves Lake FarmPark with the animals and all the people. I have learned that you can't count on people leaving your service dog alone so I have a release, "do you want to say hello?" so that they can visit. By the end of our time there, Hardy was declining to visit! And I was so proud of him! It was crowded, there was food and lots of mud! We were outdoors on grass and Hardy waited until we took him away from the area and told him to "go potty". All in all, he was so well behaved and as a bonus, we got most of our Christmas shopping done!
Hardy loves to sit on the stairs!

Mr Comfortable!
Last night, Hardy and I started back in a rally class (while Laurel and I are doing an obedience class). We're getting ready to compete in some APDT, C-WAGS and AKC trials this fall and winter. I'm hoping that Hardy will enjoy competition (like Laurel does) but I'm also doing it because there is no certification of service dogs. By competing, we show that we continue to train and be tested on various obedience skills (which relate to both public access and task training). 
Guess who found a chopstick in our backyard?

Hardy did!

Hardy found a chopstick in our backyard! Awesome, right?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hardy and I Spent Sunday Afternoon at A Dog's Life in Chesterland, OH

Hardy and I had the wonderful opportunity to "meet and greet" customers on behalf of Canine Affair Center at  A Dog's Life, in Chesterland, OH, Sunday. Unlike many service dog handlers, I don't normally take my SD or SDiT to pet stores (like PetSmart or Pet Supplies Plus) because I've seen too many ill-behaved dogs in those stores. In fact, I have come down an aisle and found a small dog whose person was at the end of a flexi while standing in a different aisle. However, A Dog's Life has a nice large space in the middle of the store as well as a big office at the back I knew we could retreat into if things got too crazy while we were there. 
All in all, we had a wonderful time! When we first arrived, the store was very quiet so I did some clicker training - among other things, reminding Hardy that "go to your mat" means the same thing even when we're in the middle of a retail store filled with all sorts of wonderful dog-related items! Once the store got busy, Hardy did lovely down stays while waiting to see if someone wanted to say hello to him. If they did, I released him and told him to "go say hi". He especially enjoyed having some friends stop by and turned himself inside out when he saw his Border Collie friend, Xen! When I told him "that's enough", he settled right back down and went back to his down stay. Our friend, Mary (from Canine Affair) came and spent some time with us. And when a Papillon came into the store and barked at Hardy, he looked at Mary as if to ask her why he was doing that! 
Being in the store provided some wonderful opportunities - walking through the aisles filled with dog food, toys and treats without checking any of them out and doing a "paws up" at the counter with "Uncle Ted" and Michelle providing treats as a reward! At one point a number of loud, less-controlled dogs came in and Hardy and I retreated to the office. We came home with a couple toys and new treats (chicken jerky)! Hardy would love to go back and hang out again real soon!
Hardy practicing "paws up" at the counter 

Hardy's really sure he could learn to use the cash register!

Do you need some help, "Uncle Ted"? Or do you have any more treats?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hardy's 16 months old now, what does that mean?

Hardy just turned 16 months old and is headed towards sexual maturity. He's gone through a couple brief fear periods before but apparently has now hit another one that is late onset and more severe. This has manifested itself with him reacting to things that have never bothered him before - unusual noises and changes in his environment. His most annoying manifestation has to do with the doorway to our bedroom. We put a gate up to keep the Labs in or out and I'm sure that at one time awhile ago when it was leaning in the doorway, it fell when Hardy was going past it. But that has never bothered him until now ... suddenly, he won't go through or past the doorway by himself! Sometimes you have to go through or past it with him and sometimes you can call him. Other doorways don't bother him; just the one, but it is still a nuisance. We will work through it but we are also working hard to keep him out of situations which might frighten him. And of course, since we don't know what he will react to, that can be challenging. In all other ways he continues to be a calm, bomb-proof young man with a lovely, kind temperament. 
We've been working on naming objects, retrieving specific items and carrying things. Hardy has no qualms about carrying items made of any type of material. He picks up his metal bowl for me which is nice! We've been using the book, The Clicked Retriever by Lana Mitchell, which has been very helpful! 
On a lighter note, we spent the weekend at our first AKC Agility trials. Laurel and I were entered in Novice A Jumpers with Weaves & Standard. Hardy came along for the ride. Hardy was wonderful! We had him in a soft side crate for the first time at a trial. He just calmly handled everything - all the other (and in some cases, crazed) dogs, the people, being in a crate for 90% of the time and being all by himself some. He got lots of compliments for his looks and excellent behavior!
Although I was really nervous about our first venture into AKC agility, Laurel and I had a blast! I thought the courses were fun, fair and reasonable! In our favor, each of the JWW courses began with a tunnel (which meant no start line stay and allowed me to catch up with Laurel by the 2nd obstacle). From her point of view, this was a class created just for her - jumps, lots of jumps, weaves and tunnels (all of her favorite things!) We Q'd with a first place in JWW each of the 3 days which meant that Laurel went home with the title of NAJ (and no, I don't know what that stands for - maybe Novice Agility Jumpers?) 
We also tried Standard, which features jumps, weaves, tunnels, the pause table, & 3 contacts (dog walk, A-Frame & teeter totter). The first day, I made mistakes outside the ring prior to even beginning the course. I brought Laurel out of her crate and over to the other side of the building (where the Standard ring was) too early; thought I knew what dog we were after, got Laurel all ready and finished up her treats only to discover there was another dog before us. It didn't help that the dog was a very frantic, excited Border Collie who barked the entire time. We were right up at the gate (like we were supposed to be) and poor Laurel started bouncing and whining. I knew I had lost her before we got in the ring. I've seen the video and it doesn't look nearly as bad as it felt but I hated to know that she was feeling stressed and anxious when we were doing something that is just for fun. We didn't Q because Laurel jumped off the A-Frame without touching the yellow contact area on the bottom part. The next 2 days' Standard runs were much better and more fun for both of us but Laurel continued to avoid the yellow portion of the A-Frame so no Qs there. However, seeing the photos and videos of her going around each course with a big smile on her face and a very waggy tail makes it all worth while! I hope Hardy develops that same love for our favorite fun activity!
Although these were definitely "dog activities" and not "working ones" for either Labrador, Laurel continued to do any task I asked of her and alerted for muscles spasms while we were there. Hardy is beginning to catch on to tasks when we are out and about but this was a very crowded, distracting place for him to practice and I was pleased with his progress. Also, Sunday night, Hardy woke me with an alert & was persistent in not letting me go back to sleep. I went out to the family room and he can and lay on the floor next to me. I believe that was the first time he has awakened me to alert (I don't need them that often and Laurel has always covered it), so I'm very proud of my young man! Great job, Labradors!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dog Days at the Botanical Gardens

Today was LEAD's Dog Days at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. They invite different dog organizations to come down and spend one Sunday during the summer with them. They provide umbrellas, a table, chairs, and water. We were invited to participate last summer and then we asked Canine Affair Center to join us. Our agility instructors (who happen to be married), Rob and Ana put together an agility course and had dogs demo and then did a "try it" session. It was a huge success so we decided to do the same thing this summer.
This was Hardy's first Dog Days - he stayed up in Canada last summer when I came down with Laurel to do it. Besides being there in their capacities as service dogs, they also got to participate in the agility demo! While vested, Hardy is really very good at ignoring other people (that's much easier for him than it is for Laurel!) but people can be so funny! One gentleman came up to Hardy, who was laying down, and kept calling him to come visit (over and over and over). Hardy didn't move but looked at me. I explained that he was working so he was doing what he was supposed to do by not moving. Then I released Hardy by telling him to "go visit" so he got up and went to the man who told him to "go back and lay down - you're working so you shouldn't get up." I don't know if Hardy was confused but I certainly was! 
For the first part of the afternoon, we had 3 service dogs hanging out under the umbrella together. Everyone got along beautifully and generally spent time under the table laying on the cool pad or in the water. One of the dogs in Hardy's agility class, Boo, came for a visit and although he doesn't always like other dogs, he and Hardy laid back to back in peaceful companionship. 
Neither Laurel nor Hardy do any agility outdoors. Laurel has allergies and although my power chair could get around, I tend to get big bruises on all my joints if I bounce around too much. Since that doesn't really work for me, I haven't done any dog sports outside. Also, Laurel has allergies to grasses, weeds and trees so doing stuff outdoors aggravates those as well. A couple weeks ago, we went to Rob and Ana's house because they have all the agility equipment set up in their backyard and Laurel and Ana did a couple practice runs. I worked with Hardy on the channel weaves and the tire jump but we didn't do any courses or any of the contact equipment. 
Rob and Ana decided to invite some beginner dogs to demo an easier course so we decided that Rob would run Laurel on the "big dog" course and Ana would run Hardy on the "baby dog" course. They each did a couple practice runs and Hardy demonstrated that he is, in fact, a 15 month old adolescent boy dog. 
Laurel did very well with her demo run - she had a little problem with the weave poles the first time through but all in all, she did great! She was focused on Rob and was just having a blast! Hardy jumped 16 inches (because of his age, we are still practicing at 12 inches) and he was totally awesome! He was fast and focused and didn't look his age at all! I was so proud of both my Labs (and to be honest, my big brown boy really surprised me)!

After the demo, we went back to the table. Unfortunately, we were joined by a dog (not a service dog) that kept lunging while barking and growling at other dogs walking past our table. This is certainly not the impression we want people to have when they think of Lake Erie Assistance Dogs! Then, just when we were getting ready to leave, that same dog lunged at Hardy who was about 3-4 feet away from him and bit him on the nose. It didn't break the skin and Hardy is fine (although Laurel got very upset), but it felt like a bad end to a really lovely afternoon. I will make sure that he has plenty of opportunities to be in the company of friendly dogs and watch for any signs of stress and/or reactivity. Certainly, even though this was not a big traumatic situation, it's not what I want my young SDiT (or my SD, for that matter) to be involved in. However, when all things are said and done, I was very proud of both my Labs and thought it was a lovely summer afternoon!

Friday, July 29, 2011

What a Difference a Dog Makes!

The 4th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is going up tomorrow and although I already submitted a piece for it, I've recently had some opportunities to contemplate the topic from this perspective so I've decided to write another post. The topic for the Carnival is "Difference" and I've already written about the differences between my 5 year old yellow Lab, Laurel and my 15 month old chocolate Lab SDiT, Hardy.
This time, I want to discuss what a difference having a service dog has made in my life. My husband, Brent and I recently traveled to Saratoga Springs to see our son, Devin, perform there. My mom & step-dad also came for the long weekend and my aunt and uncle came down for one of the performances. Unfortunately, I have heard from some family members that my step-dad really doesn't understand why Laurel and Hardy are so important to me and has complained about having them go places with us. We also have a history of "step family issues" so I will admit to being very defensive when he criticizes one of my Labs (admittedly, I'm the same way when he says something unfair or unkind about one of my children). And, then, sometimes, although I do think my mom has a better idea of what Laurel and Hardy have done for me, sometimes she, too, will say something that demonstrates otherwise.
So, in contemplating why those comments are so hurtful, I've been reminded of all the positive differences having a service dog has brought into my life.
I got Laurel as a puppy without having had much experience with service dogs. I did a ton of research and planned to train her in what seemed to be typical mobility-related tasks - picking up and carrying things, opening & closing things, helping with dressing & undressing etc. Those tasks save me energy, prevent accidents and allow me to do more each day. But additionally, when Laurel was about 6 months old, we realized that she was alerting to two different medical problems I didn't even know dogs could (very severe muscle spasms & rheumatoid in the chest wall - which feels like a heart attack). As many people know, taking medication after the muscle spasms begin often has no affect on them. Prior to having the alert which allows me to take them 45 minutes to an hour before they begin, I would end up in the hospital in full, rigid whole-body spasms about every 4-6 weeks. That hasn't happened since. And two years ago, when I developed steroid-induced diabetes, Laurel knew it was happening before the doctors did. Last summer, she taught Hardy the alerts so now I am covered whenever I have one of them with me.
Additionally, when I am not feeling well or am stuck in bed, it's really wonderful to have a dog (or two) willing to stay with me, snuggle and dote on me. We play some great games that don't require me to get out of bed but get them involved, enthused and thinking! They get things for me, keep me company and generally, brighten my day (I really hate being stuck in bed)!
I'm defintely more active now that I have a service dog. When Laurel was young and we were taking training classes, I was reminded how much I love working with dogs and doing dog sports. So, now, although Laurel and Hardy will always be, first and foremost, my service dogs, we also train and compete in a variety of sports - obedience, rally, and agility. We're working on freestyle and I plan to do some carting. My husband comes with us to whatever classes he can and we go to all the trials together, which is wonderful since he is my best friend and biggest supporter.
When I first started training Laurel, I realized how lonely it is to be an owner-trainer and founded a service dog club, Lake Erie Assistance Club (LEAD), modeled after Jeanne Hampl's in Washington state. We're small but growing and it's given me many great opportunities to meet other people involved with service dogs in northeastern OH and to "pay it forward". In February 2008, Laurel, Brent and I attended Sue Alexander's first service dog seminar up in Guelph, Ontario. She agreed to be our service dog trainer, which has led to a wonderful professional and personal relationship. We've gone back every year and for the last three, have spoken there. And I was just invited to do a seminar/workshop on service dogs at a new training facility in Michigan.
Last summer, I was invited to teach a regular obedience class at our local training hall. I now have two classes that are based on Sue Ailsby's training levels and which have proven quite popular. I love my students and although I didn't expect to teach dog training, I am thrilled to have the opportunity! An added bonus is that the money I make covers most of the costs of our classes as well as entry fees for trials.
So, although I know that as service dog handlers, we are often reluctant to discuss the more subjective benefits of having our partners, I also appreciate that those are as real and valuable as the ones I get from my Labs doing their tasks.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Differences Between Laurel and Hardy

Although I am not an expert in the comedic team. Laurel and Hardy, I believe that most of us who know anything about them think first of their differences. Laurel was tall and thin while Hardy was quite large and they used those differences in their comedy.
I have my own comedy team in my two Labrador Retrievers appropriately named Laurel & Hardy. Admittedly, when we got our 8 week old female yellow Lab 5 years ago, we named her "Shawnee's Mountain Laurel" to honor the Poconos area where she was bred and Laurel was her obvious call name. She has made me laugh everyday since I got her and when we were looking for another puppy last summer and he turned out to be a chocolate maie instead of the yellow female I'd been imagining, "Hardy" seemed like the perfect name! And since he'd be a service dog too, "Ridge View's Hard Day's Night" (with the lyrics, "I've been working like a dog") seemed an appropriate registered name. Also, having "Laurel & Hardy" helps me with my difficulty coming up with the correct name at any given time. Assuming that I don't call one of them by one of my children's names, or that of one of our former dogs or our cat, I can usually come up with "Laurel" or "Hardy".
Even though I have difficulty always coming up with the correct name, my Labs couldn't be more different! I selected Laurel on my own using some basic temperament testing tools and she is absolutely the type of dog I am attracted to - good and bad! She is high energy, very friendly, very enthusiastic with a real sense of humor and fun about her! She enjoys trying new things and loves to learn! She is very bomb proof in almost any situation and has a great recovery! Her energy and enthusiasm sometimes go over the top and she has little to no natural self-control. She is very sensitive to me which allowed her to be a natural alerter to three different medical problems but also causes her to worry about me.
We worked very hard from the moment we got her to increase her self control; did lots of socialization and tons of training. When she was about six months old, she gave me the gift of alerting to a medical problem (very severe muscle spasms) I didn't know dogs could and went on to alert to two other problems as well. Her ability to alert has changed my life in really amazing ways and she also does typical mobility tasks that allow me to do things without asking for help, risking injury or using energy and strength I don't have. We have always separated those times when she is working in public with "dog time" and as a result, when she is dressed and working, she is much more controlled and serious. When it's "dog time", although she will still alert and do tasks, she is allowed to be her real self: high energy, hugely enthusiastic and friendly without the best self-control. Although we do lots of dog sports (agility, obedience, rally, freestyle) to give her an outlet for her energy and enthusiasm, I am also aware that her temperament is not ideal for a service dog which makes working in public more difficult for her!
Enter Lab #2, a little brown boy our service dog trainer, Sue Alexander, temperament tested and helped select for me. Left to my own devices, he would not have been the puppy I selected and that was the point to having a professional who knew me and what I wanted and needed help with the process. He is a fun, happy, enthusiastic young man who shares some wonderful qualities with Laurel - he is quite bombproof with great recovery; he makes me laugh and can be a lot of fun! Laurel has been essential to his learning process and as a result, when he was about 3 1/2 months old, he alerted to one of my medical problems on his own and since then, has proven to be very accurate and predictive, just like Laurel is. However, in a few but really critical areas, he is as different from Laurel as he could be! He has tons of self control and is by nature, much more serious minded (or as our son would say, "boring"). In fact, he is currently a 15 month old unneutered adolescent male and he still has tons more self control than Laurel does. Also, he can alert and then, usually can let it go. He doesn't tend to worry ... once he has told me about what is going to happen, he lets go of the responsibility much more easily than Laurel does.
I have never seen Hardy "over the top" and he settles and relaxes easily and beautifully. I have to work harder to keep him motivated when we're doing dog sports (right now, for instance, he does't understand why he should worry about sitting up and straight when we are doing obedience or rally) so I'm working to get better at that. I would tell you that Laurel is persistent but we selected Hardy, in part, for his persistence and he wins the award for that at our house (and for right now, at least, that's not something we are always enjoying)!
When I take my young brown boy out for public access practice I am awed once again at how much easier the differences in Hardy's temperament make doing his job compared to Laurel. I will be forever grateful to Laurel for her gifts of alerting and for her efforts to be the best service dog she can be but in the future, I will look for dogs who have temperaments that will make the job easier for them!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Big Weekend for Hardy!

After spending the last couple weeks dealing with Brent's parents' affairs in St. Louis and getting ready for a van full of stuff to arrive from there, we took Laurel and Hardy on an enforced relaxation trip to Saratoga Springs, NY, to see our son, Devin and his boyfriend, Anthony, dance with the New York City Ballet at the outdoor performing arts center there (SPAC). Saratoga Springs is in upstate NY (the finger lakes region) and is just beautiful! SPAC is in a national park -  an amphitheater with a balcony in a gorgeous setting! We love going there each summer and really missed being there last summer when I was up in Canada. Laurel has already gotten to attend many performances there so this trip was Hardy's opportunity to practice his public access skills while watching (and/or sleeping through) some of the best ballet performances anywhere! 
We left early Friday morning since it's about a 9 hour drive. Unfortunately, the fan for our A/C failed when we passing through Erie, PA, so we had our windows open for most of the trip! Fortunately, both Labs love to travel so they were settled in their crates but we had to watch Hardy because his crate is on the floor of the van next to my chair. Since he's brown, he tends to get warmer than Laurel and we were worried that there wasn't a lot of circulation down there. Laurel's crate's on top of his and she had a great view (and smell) with the wind blowing through her crate. Normally, she just sleeps but she was up and sniffing the air instead. We arrived at the Adirondack Inn about 3:30. We decided to stay there because they are reasonably priced, located very close to SPAC (as a matter of fact, many dancers stay there) and is very dog friendly. Behind each unit is a back yard and it was just perfect for us. We had a unit at the end of one section and my mom & stepdad were right next door to us. 
Hardy sleeping through the NYC Ballet performance

Still sleeping
A big storm came through Friday evening when we were heading for SPAC so Hardy got to experience a sea of umbrellas. He took it all in stride and since we had arrived after the performance began, we had to wait at the top of the hill until the first piece was done. There is a lawn section with big projection screens so Hardy lay down and watched the screens. When we were able to head down to our seats, we found that they were at the back of the area under the roof in the center (thanks for the comp tickets, Devin & Anthony & NYC Ballet). When we first got to our seats, Hardy was pretty sure he should pick up our umbrellas, the usher's umbrellas and her pen that was on the ground. It was a good chance to remind him that just because something is on the ground doesn't mean I want him to pick it up - I remember Laurel going through this same phase. Now she asks me if I want her to pick up something that is randomly on the floor. Hardy immediately settled in and since it was dark, he slept through the dancing, applause, thunder and people moving around during the intermissions! At the end, we woke him up and headed to the side of the stage to pick up Devin and Anthony. On the way, we told Hardy we were going to get them and when he heard their names, he perked up and while we were waiting, he was obviously looking for them. When they came out the stage door, it was clear he recognized them! 
My Aunt and Uncle from upstate New York drove down Saturday morning to see the matinee performance. We mostly relaxed and chatted in our rooms until we headed to SPAC again. Laurel was very happy to spend time in her crate in our room and Hardy was thrilled to be dressed and heading out again. When we arrived at SPAC, he clearly knew what his job was and headed right down to the pavilion to find our seats. This time, we were seated close to the stage on the far right side (by the stage door). The bad thing was that we had an obstructed view but what we could see was very close. Hardy settled right down again and stayed awake for a bit watching the other people. When Devin & Anthony came onstage for the first time though, he was sound asleep again. However, the last piece was The Magic Flute and Hardy was awake for that. He sat and watched the stage and when Devin came on, he got very interested. I actually think he would have gone on stage if I had allowed it (and yes, we were that close to the stage). At the end of the performance, when I told him we were going to get Devin and Anthony, he headed right to the stage door. (We have been working on having him find the van for me when I forget where it is). 
Patiently waiting for Devin and Anthony to come on stage!

Still waiting! Do you know where they are?

Oh bummer, sound asleep again!
Devin gets a bit overwhelmed by Laurel and Anthony, who was afraid of dogs, just adores her. However, Devin determined that Hardy was "boring" since he was dressed and "doing his job" so he was ignoring Devin. Apparently, a Lab just can't win with him! 
We left both Labs home for dinner since we were going to a Japanese Hibachi restaurant (one place I won't take a service dog since there are no places under a table for them and there is open fire when the chefs are doing their tricks). 
Sunday, we met for breakfast and left the Labs in the room (Hardy still isn't a fan of being left in his crate instead of being able to come with us so he needs more practice) and then we just hung out and relaxed for the rest of the day. 
Monday morning, we headed home - thankfully, an uneventful trip. Tuesday, the moving truck arrived so we are back in the land of unpacking and rearranging ... not the Labs' favorite place to be. If the weather would cooperate, we could go for walks but it's either been raining and/or oppressively hot. Since I don't do well with heat, we avoid it whenever possible!
Overall, I'm very proud of my chocolate boy! At this point, I am sure that he would pass a public access test and am about ready to take his "in training" status away. I'll talk to our service dog trainer before we do that but I think he would easily qualify as a full public access service dog at this point. Having two working dogs is really a privilege and blessing for me!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Some more time at "Happy Lab Acres" (Donna Reece's Ridge View Labradors)

Brent drove his Dad's Jeep home last Monday. We've been trying to decide what to do with the vehicle (an '09 with 11,000 miles on it) but since we just realized that both crates fit perfectly in the back, we will probably keep it! 
Friday, we took my power chair over to Brunswick (over an hour away to the southwest) for some repairs and my van down to Akron (about an hour away to the southeast) for repairs to the air conditioning lines and to the ramp, which won't come back into the van. We were heading to St Louis Saturday for Dad's funeral, to sort stuff and arrange for some of it to come to Cleveland so we took the Labs out to Donna Reece's Friday evening. We had thought about taking Hardy but decided not to because he seems to be going through a bit of a fear period and we thought that might not be the best time for his first airplane flight! Instead, we left both Laurel & Hardy out at Ridge View Labradors. The nice thing is that whenever we pull up at Donna's house, both of them run to the front door excited to be there again!
The flight to St Louis went well on Saturday and we spent the day sorting and looking through boxes. Dad had moved from his house of 65+ years in March - he had over 100 unopened boxes in the basement alone which we thought we'd have to ship to us in  to sort. We also found some lovely brand new furniture - Dad had been "living" in the basement with a TV and a broken recliner. I suppose he was waiting to move upstairs until he had completed all the renovating and remodeling. Being there and seeing the loving care with which he did the work, we became quite fond of the house and decided that we should use the furniture since he never had the chance to. It was still a difficult decision because although it was beautiful, much of it isn't to our taste and we have a house full of our own. 
Sunday, we did more sorting and finalized things for the funeral home visitation, the funeral and the internment at the national cemetery. Monday was a long day with a "private viewing"; four hours of visitation; a Masonic service; the funeral service, which Brent and I performed (Brent gave a lovely eulogy which honored his Dad but was still truthful); then the procession to Jefferson Barracks, ending in a short but lovely military service. Afterwards, we went out to dinner with some other family members at a local restaurant. That evening, we finished looking through all the boxes except those in the garage. 
Tuesday morning, the packer came and it looked like she did a great job. We headed to the airport about two hours before the flight was supposed to take off. Unfortunately, it was delayed and we got in to Cleveland about an hour and a half late. We had to stop home before heading out to pick up Laurel and Hardy.
The Labs had a wonderful time with Donna and their Lab and Mastiff friends. We're still glad that we didn't take Hardy with us although we'd like an opportunity to take take him on a flight sometime soon. But, we'd like to do that when we can focus on the training with patience. And although they were delighted to come home with us, it was obvious that they had had a blast!
This week, we will be busy preparing our house and basement for all the stuff coming on the moving van. We hadn't planned on the furniture but now we have to swap it with what we already have in our bedroom and office, the family room, living room, and Devin and Kristen's bedrooms! 
And now, having had to do this for Brent's Dad, we've made a commitment to not leave all our stuff for our children to have to sort and decide what might have some value. Hence, while we get our stuff ready to move, we are sorting it into different piles: garage sale, keep, donate and trash.  Poor Laurel and Hardy probably won't appreciate the time we spend doing all that though! Sometimes it's just tough work being a Labrador!

Monday, June 20, 2011

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"

This past weekend Canine Affair (our training hall) hosted a C-WAGS Obedience and Rally trial for which I served as the C-WAGS Advocate (or Representative). With the potential for hot weather and because I haven't been working much to get ready, I wasn't sure I'd be competing. 
About 4 or 5 weeks ago, we found out that Brent's father, who lives in St. Louis had inoperable (terminal) lung cancer and that he had 6-8 months to 1 year to live. At that point, he was living at home and had gone to see his doctor. When he was dissatisfied with what his doctor had to say, he decided he needed to go to the hospital. Once there, he was diagnosed with a very aggressive, untreatable cancer and it became quickly apparent that he would never go home again. Brent's mother has been in a nursing home for about 10 years with advanced Alzheimer's and he is an only child with a very small extended family that hasn't been close for many years. As a result, everything fell to Brent and suddenly we were trying to pay their bills, make living arrangements for his dad and take care of his mom. Unfortunately, his dad's health declined quickly and two weeks ago, we were told he had 2-4 months left and he immediately went into hospice. Brent decided to spend a last father's day with his dad so we made reservations for him to go there Friday (the 17th). He was scheduled to land at 8:00 in the morning but we got a call 5 hours before (at 3:00) letting us know that his dad had passed away peacefully in his sleep. Brent went there but instead of getting to see his dad, he had to make arrangements for his funeral, talk to the lawyer, go to the banks and the nursing home to see about his mom etc. 
For all sorts of reasons, it's been a stressful couple months for us and although I've made time for continuing our service dog training, I haven't been working on anything related to competition. Despite that, I decided on Saturday to try Level 1 Obedience with Hardy. Brent and I also used FaceTime to be together while making the funeral arrangements which made it an emotional day. Although we hadn't worked on all of the exercises, Hardy got one Q. On Sunday, I did Pro, Zoom 2 and ARF rally with Laurel and although she was worried about me, we got 3 Qs with 2 firsts & 1 second place. At the last minute, I decided to try Zoom 1 with Hardy. He was really on and we won the class with a 98/100! I have to admit that I was surprised and very proud of him! And he has requested that I not come out of the ring telling everyone how surprised I am when he does a good job! Funny boy!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Hardy spent today at Working Dog Weekend event

Hardy, Brent and I spent today at the Working Dog Weekend event at Lake FarmPark. I've taken Laurel in past years but this year more than ever I really  appreciated what a great place the FarmPark is for service dog training, whether the Working Dog event is going on or not. I'm thinking that a membership might be a worthwhile tool for our training plan. 
Working Dog Weekend is an annual event at which various dog related vendors and exhibitors are in attendance along with a dog friendly audience as well as some unsuspecting visitors who didn't realize there was a special event going on. 
In general, the FarmPark is a beautiful place with nice paths to walk on, farm animals and some farm-related exhibits. Besides this event, they have a wine tasting event and a arts and crafts show, a farmers market, and a harvest festival, to name a few. 
Today, Hardy got to see llamas and alpacas, Clydesdales and Belgium draft horses, sheep, and huge tractors pulling wagons carrying people around for the first time. He wasn't a big fan of the tractors as they came past us so of course, we spent lots of time letting them do just that. When we went to see the Clydesdales, they were standing very still and the first time one of them moved, Hardy jumped. We hung around long enough for him to get comfortable watching them. Then, we went into the arena and met some Belgium drafts who were standing right at the doors to their stalls. Up close, they have huge heads and are pretty intimidating (although they are generally gentle giants). It took Hardy a while to get close to the stall door but we waited around until he could do it. He found the llamas and alpaca interesting but much less worrisome! He also watched intently while a flyball team demonstrated that sport and then during a police dog demonstration. He was pretty thrilled by the dogs trying out dock diving as well as those playing Frisbee. We also saw a Border Coolie herding sheep and enjoyed watching our friends doing agility and freestyle.  
The benefit and curse of the day was the fact that most people there were dog friendly. Unfortunately, that didn't necessarily mean that they were dog knowledgeable! As a result, many people came up to Hardy - some asked first but most did not. Both children and adults "mugged" him by grabbing his tail or his face. I kept thinking how dangerous that behavior could be with the wrong dog. I was very proud of Hardy though because he remained relaxed and nonplussed throughout and waited for me to ask him if he "wanted to say hello" before he approached people or responded to their attention. 
I do believe he got tired of dogs "goosing" his behind - I know I certainly did! Too many people had dogs on flexis without paying attention to where they were going or what they were doing! Other people were just unconscious or unconcerned about what trouble their dog might be getting themselves into and once again, I thought how dangerous that could be. Hardy handled it all like a trooper and I worked to keep him away from uninvited interest from people or other dogs but I couldn't always do that since they would approach from all directions and climb over me to get at him. Brent commented that most people weren't paying attention to my attempts to get them to control themselves or their dogs! I don't know if I suddenly become mute when in my chair but it certainly seems like I do! 
Still, it was an enjoyable day; Hardy handled a number of "firsts" with calm confidence and had great opportunities to practice his public access skills in the most difficult situation to date!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Wow! Time Flies!

Apparently time flies whether you're having fun or not! I've still been struggling with the side effects from the Baclofen which combined with the heat (very unusual in Cleveland but we've already had 3 days with temperatures in the 90s. It looks like it's been hot around the country but it should be in the 60s - 70s in May and early June here. As part of my various disabilities, my body doesn't regulate it's temperature well (or sometimes, it seems, at all) so I can't be outside when it is too hot and I don't deal with extreme changes in temperatures well. Hence, I have struggled with that recently.
Hardy has been going out with me on errands whenever I go and he is gaining confidence and enthusiasm for the job. His default down is lovely when I'm looking at something or we're standing in line although it makes doing sit stays somewhat more challenging. 
Last week was a really big one for my big brown boy! On Wednesday, June 1st, he spent the day at the Ophthalmologist's having the procedure to freeze his errant eye lashes. Again, he doesn't have Entropion, in which the eyelids roll-in. Instead, he has something called Distichiasis - abnormal eye lashes growing out of the oil glands of the eyelids. Often, there are no clinical symptoms but since Hardy has had gunky eyes since he was a puppy we believe his are irritating his eyes. While under a general anesthesia,a procedure called cryoepilation was performed - the abnormal hair follicles were frozen using a liquid nitrogen probe and then the hairs were removed. It appears that the procedure was successful but the vet believes that Hardy reacted to either the gas or anesthesia used because he was throwing ventricular beats every once in a while when he was under. When he was coming out, his heart beat evened out and he recovered uneventfully. Of course, we'll have to figure out what was going on since he will have to be under anesthesia a couple more times in his life, even if he doesn't have any unexpected medical conditions needing surgery. At some point between 18 months and 2+ years, he will be undergoing a neutering and at the same time we will have the orthopedic X-rays done to ensure that his hips and elbows are good. 
Then, on Thursday, June 2, we drove up to Canada for the 4th Dogs in the Park Service Dog Seminar. Although I had some physical difficulties over the weekend, the 3 day seminar was amazing and well worth our trip! There were about 35 people in attendance with many different disabilities and almost as many SDs or SDiTs. Hardy got to practice his public access behavior around other dogs while we attended the various sessions. Both Laurel and Hardy had a difficult time because of my medical problems. At one point, Hardy gave me what was obviously an alert but was something different than I'm used to. Thinking it was for muscle spasms, I took some muscle relaxants but when that didn't stop him, I took pain meds for the rheumatoid. He was still persistently trying to tell me something so I tested my blood sugar to find that it was very high (the overdose of baclofen screws up blood sugar levels). Then it took me a couple hours to realize that the wrong dog had alerted to the blood sugar! Hardy has never learned that particular alert but apparently it's a natural for him as well as it was for Laurel. He and Laurel also got to get into a police car, see it with it's lights on and jump up on the hood to have photos taken! They also had the chance to get into the back of a paramedic's rig - Laurel leaped in and stood with her wagging tail looking at everyone while Hardy took the more conservative approach of climbing up using the step and then laying down. 
There were photos taken of the various adventures and hopefully someone will send some of them to me. In addition, one of the attendees is a professional photographer and took some "studio-type" photos of Laurel and Hardy that I'll be able to share. 
We had an uneventful trip home on Monday and then Sue Alexander & Ann Munsch, President of K9 Helpers (a Canadian non-profit that places psychiatric SDs with people in the Guelph area) arrived on Tuesday to look at Hardy's breeder's kennel (Ridge View Labradors) for a puppy. Neither Laurel nor Hardy were involved with the testing or selection of the puppy (Hardy's half-brother, Widget) but the visit still impacted them because there was another service dog in the house (D'fer) and of course, Widget came to stay with us for a couple days. Both of them got to spend some time with him - Laurel thought we were out of our minds since she had just helped us raise a puppy last summer (Hardy). Hardy enjoyed him (he probably thought it was pretty cool to have another brown boy around who looked so much like him as a young puppy). He even let Widget take his Frisbee away from him! 
Everyone left for Canada this morning so quiet once again reigns at our house (as it turns out, Widget is quite the screamer and of course, he was, in part, selected for his persistence!)

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Couple Interesting Days

As in so many parts of the country, the weather in northeastern Ohio has been pretty wet and extreme over the past several weeks. Although neither Laurel nor Hardy have ever shown any signs of thunderstorm phobia - they are, after all retrievers ("gun dogs"), my husband and I are still being very generous with treats during periods of heavy thunder. For one thing, something I'm not sure enough people recognize is that although thunderstorm phobia is based in a dog's puppyhood and early years, often the dog doesn't manifest the problem until they are between 4 and 7 years old. Hence, even though it doesn't appear that Hardy has any problems with the loud noise, we will continue to use classical conditioning to keep him thinking good thoughts about the possibility of hearing thunder. And, of course, how can we not share treats with Laurel at the same time? At the first sign of a thunderstorm, Laurel comes running in hopes of getting lots of treats! Obviously, if the Labs are asleep during a thunderstorm, we do NOT wake them!
This week I have also been fairly annoyed to discover that I am still experiencing side effects caused by the mistake with my Baclofen pump refill last week. My doctors and I aren't worried that I'm going to have some fatal overdose but I do keep having some unfortunate symptoms - my muscles are way too limp, I can't stay awake, I'm nauseous, dizzy and seeing double. It comes and goes but keeps coming at the most inconvenient times! Once again, the Labs and I haven't been able to do too much this week :-(
We did manage to go to agility class yesterday. Hardy and I had missed his class on Tuesday but we were able to drop in on a class with Rob (Laurel & my agility instructor). Obviously we need more work on rear crosses (which is interesting because that's almost exclusively what I use running Laurel) and Hardy is still not motivated when we're doing exercises that have jumps but no tunnels or contacts! He tends to slop through those exercises - knocking down jumps and trotting between them. When things get more complicated (and in his mind) interesting, Hardy kicks into gear and starts moving! He is still much more interested in staying with me than Laurel ever was and watches me intently (even over the jumps) but once he is jumping at full-height and we are better at doing agility together, maybe he'll get faster too! But for now, I do front crosses with him and rear crosses with Laurel. Doing agility, like so many other things we do, shows just how different Laurel and Hardy can be - complete opposites and I'm guessing I'm going to get dizzy trying to run both of them at the same trial! 
A couple weeks ago, Hardy ran right into the tire jump. Thankfully, it was set at a very low height so that when he didn't bother to jump and crashed into it, he didn't flip over or get hurt. The entire jump, including the frame and the ring gating next to it fell around him though. Luckily, he just stood there waiting for us to let him out. Although he wasn't thrilled with it right after the accident, we did successfully take him through it several more times at the end of class. Yesterday, was the first time he'd seen the tire jump since he crashed into it and it was clear he wasn't feeling kindly towards it - instead of jumping it, he just ran right around it. We went back to having him sit and stay on one side and calling him through to help his confidence. Then we started moving past it and finally, sending him to it. I suspect we may have to go through this process several more times before he completely forgives the jump for falling on him! On the other hand, he is doing great with the teeter totter, A-Frame, tunnels and channel weaves!
I slept in unbelievably late today (those pesky side effects again). In the afternoon, we took Hardy to Costco to get  some things for the holiday weekend. The doors and ramp on my van didn't co-operate which was annoying but we hand-cranked and pushed and managed to get everything open and out and then in and closed. Unfortunately, I  do see another trip to the mobility vehicle dealership in Hardy's and my near future! 
Instead Costco, I was once again impressed with how well Hardy handled himself with big crowds of people. Also having his default down makes it so easy - if I stop to look at something or to stand in line, Hardy lies down next to me. In the midst of showing us how well suited he is for his job - people pushing carts right towards us, the forklifts with the pallets and other strange noises don't phase him; we did find one thing Hardy had a problem with. When we tried to approach a refrigeration case in the bakery department, Hardy suddenly and unexpectedly put on the brakes which meant that since I kept going in my chair, I ended up dragging him across the slippery floor for a couple steps. I used "touch" and treats to encourage him to come closer and closer to the case while strangers offered their suggestions about what he didn't like - he could see his reflection (ah, no), there was some smell (wafting from a bakery case filled with cakes - yeah, no, that would actually encourage him to approach the case) and my personal favorite, which was that Hardy didn't want to approach the cracker that was crumbled on the floor in front of the case (because the possibility of some type of food would discourage a Lab). I think it was the sound - that case had a much louder noise than any other in the store. Although Hardy did approach the case and laid down next to it at one point, we will be going back there when there aren't so many people and we can practice being near it and making it one of Hardy's best friends!


Monday, May 23, 2011

Doing Dog Sports with an Alert Service Dog can be Exciting and Challenging!

I know this is my blog about raising service dog candidates from the time they are puppies until they are working service dogs (and can successfully pass a public access test). I'm using my experiences raising my young chocolate Lab, Hardy, to show the different things that you will need to do, the problems that will occur, the different experiences you will share as well as the tremendous bond that forms between you and your canine partner.
At the same time, I also have Laurel, my soon-to-be five year old working service dog. And having her while raising and training my next service dog has had a huge impact on that experience. Laurel has been a wonderful teacher for Hardy - she was an amazing puppy trainer, taught him two of her natural alerts, helps with teaching him tasks and generally continues to keep his behavior in check. I learned so much from working with her and I have consciously attempted to improve things for him by using what I have learned. I asked my service dog trainer, Sue Alexander, to come down and temperament test litters of puppies so that I could get a puppy better suited to the job because I see how hard it is for Laurel. But maybe the most important impact having a working service dog has had on my experience raising Hardy is that I have been able to enjoy Hardy's puppy-hood with much less stress and temptations to rush him to grow up and begin working. For me, that's particularly important because I am very competitive and don't need much encouragement to act like an idiot! 
Having expressed all of the above yet again, I'm also going to share an experience I had with Laurel at agility trials over the weekend. As I've shared before, Laurel does 3 different medical alerts for me - all of which began naturally (Laurel taught them to me instead of the other way around). She taught Hardy two of the alerts when he was still a puppy and she has alerted to other people. She's alerted to our daughter's anxiety and her severe muscle spasms; she's also alerted to several friends' anxiety and she alerted to a friend's pain disorder. But these were all people she knows and has spent time with. 
Normally, at any type of trials, Laurel relaxes or sleeps when she's in her crate. Yesterday, when I came to get her for one of our agility runs, my husband mentioned that she had barked at a stranger who had walked past her. It caused me to pause for a moment because she has never ever done anything like that before ... she was socialized to everything and more as a puppy and she's been successfully working as a service dog for about 3 1/2 years now. But we had to run (literally) so I didn't have time to think much more about it - we went and warmed up and did our run. I noticed that Laurel was much more distracted than she had been but didn't think much about it. When I came back to our crating area, I put Laurel away and then observed her very intently and deliberately watching the same stranger. If someone got in her way, she would move in her crate so that she could see him again and occasionally, she would look at me and "woof" once. I quickly began thinking that there was something going on and that maybe Laurel was alerting. I took her out of her crate to see what would happen and she continued to very deliberately get me to look at the man and then "woofed" at me to let me know that something was going on with him. I had no idea what "protocol" was in this situation - do I go up to him and say that I have an alerting dog who seems to think something is going on with him? I saw that he was with someone I know casually from the trials so I approached her. I asked if she knew him and when she said yes, I told her about Laurel and that she was alerting to him. The woman looked startled and then said that the man had just had surgery and had a tube draining blood from an incision and that he had diabetes and with the surgery (which hadn't gone well), his blood sugar was very high and out of control. I'm not sure which Laurel was alerting to but I was sure that she was alerting to something. I went back to Laurel in her crate, thanked her for alerting, gave her a jackpot of treats, told her that her job was done and five minutes later, looked over and saw that she was sound asleep once again. After that, our weekend went on as usual - Laurel had done her job as she believes it to be and then went on taking care of me and playing agility together! I have to admit that I was amazed by my awesome girl and the gift she shares with the people she comes in contact with! 
Hardy had a wonderful time at the trials - he didn't alert to any strangers but he visited and watched teams compete and we worked on some obedience things together! 
Laurel coming out of a tunnel at an agility trial

Laurel & I playing at agility together

Hitting that contact on the teeter totter

What Laurel does at agility trials when she's not alerting

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hardy Gets to Practive Correct Service Dog Behavior at the Hospital

Yesterday morning, I took Hardy with me to the Cleveland Clinic Pain Center for a routine pump refill at 8:30 am. I have an intrathecal pump implanted which sends Baclofen (an antispasticity medication) right into my spinal column. Every six weeks or so, I go in so that they can put more Baclofen into the pump using a syringe and needle through the pump's port. Usually, the refill goes perfectly fine - there's one stick, the needle ends up in the port and there's no problem getting the medication into the pump. Finding the port in mine tends to be more difficult since it's my second pump so there's lots of scar tissue. As a result, it's hard to feel the borders of the pump which is necessary in order to locate the relatively small port entry so occasionally, there's a minor problem when the nurse has difficulty getting the needle into the port resulting in multiple needle sticks.
I've had a pump now for at least 10 years and yesterday something unique happened. The nurse thought she had gotten the needle into the port and began injecting the Baclofen. After putting in a couple cc's, she became concerned about the location of the needle. She went to find out whether we could use the fluoroscope (like an x-ray machine). We moved into the surgical suite to use the machine and discovered that the needle was not in the port and in fact, the pump was oriented pretty much opposite of what we had thought. My nurse withdrew the needle and using a new one, got it right into the pump. 
After completing the refill, she contacted my doctor regarding the medication that she inadvertently injected subcutaneously. The concern was how concentrated the medicine was and what the effect would be as I absorbed it. Baclofen is a drug that can be dangerous if you get too much of it or stop taking it suddenly - you need to taper the amount going up or down. Since no one knew how quickly I was going to absorb it and one possible effect of an overdose is death, my doctor decided that I should stay in the hospital overnight. 
I had to spend time in the surgical recovery at the Pain Center while they found me a hospital room. My refill nurse asked whether Hardy could stay with me and the recovery room nurses set me up in a cubical at one end of the room so that he could. 
Hardy watching in the recovery room

And Hardy sleeping there

They found a room for me at about 11:00 am but that didn't hurry anything along and the Pain Clinic people didn't want my husband, Brent, to drive me over to the hospital in our van so at about 1:00, I asked him to take Hardy home so that he and Laurel could have lunch and Brent could get some things done before bringing me back some clothes, my meds, my bi-pap machine etc. Although the Pain Clinic seemed to think that I needed a medical person at all times, at about 3:00, they loaded me up into a Cleveland Clinic shuttle van (without a medical person) and sent me over to the hospital. Once we got there, I was on my own to get up to my hospital room - I must admit that I was sorely tempted to call Brent and ask him to pick me up at the hospital doors. Instead I found my way up to M77- bed 1 where I got admitted and finally had something to eat. At about 5:00, Brent brought Hardy back to visit in my hospital room. Laurel has stayed overnight in the hospital with me so I thought Hardy could benefit from the experience. Brent brought a mat and after asking the floor nurse for permission, we let him up on his mat on my bed. He was very good and all the nurses and some doctors who stopped by asked before they visited with him. 
My roommate was there for a pain pump trial and was just amazed at all the things Hardy and Laurel do for me. She has a black Lab at home and was very hopeful that she might learn to do some things to help her at home. Although she doesn't live anywhere near me, a friend of mine is a trainer near her so I will put them in touch when the time is right. She was very sweet and told me that I was there for the night so that she could meet me and feel hopeful about her future! That made an annoying event seem much more positive for me too!
I sent Brent and Hardy home at about 9:30 pm. Hardy could have stayed the night but I wasn't up to taking him out so I thought he'd be better off at home. I came home at about 12:00 today - which is Brent's and my 32nd Anniversary! 
Hardy visiting in my hospital room

Hardy visiting me on his mat on my bed

Hardy visiting me in bed at the hospital

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hardy & I Spent the Day at the Mobility Place & Auto Dealership

When it got hot here last week, I discovered that for the fourth time since I've had my 4 year old wheelchair-modified Honda Odyssey, the air conditioning was not working again. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love my van and would recommend it but I am getting tired of the unending air conditioning problems.
I needed to take it down to Akron (about an hour from here) to Mobility Works (the wheelchair van dealership) so that they could determine what was wrong and what they needed to do to fix it. I decided to take Hardy with me so that he could practice some public access. We got there at about 10:15 am and spent about 3 hours in the waiting room. Besides having Hardy practice laying around with things going on around him, we also spent some time working on having him pick up his leash and his mat for me. Since there wasn't anyone else in the waiting room for part of the time, I felt comfortable clicker training there. 
Hardy was terrific and when we left, we practiced the new way I'm going to have him get into his crate when we're out by ourselves - he gets up on the backseat before I get in with my chair; then I move the crate so that the opening is to the back. When I ask him to, he jumps off the seat into the crate. He's getting very good at it and it's working well for us.
While we were down in Akron, I stopped by the Honda dealership to have our oil & filter changed and our tires rotated. Once again, Hardy spent the time in the waiting room. There were more people there but most were very polite and didn't approach Hardy or attempt to entice him to interact with them. Occasionally, I will release him with " Do you want to say hello" to go over and get petted. Usually, though, I explain that when he has his vest on and is working, it would be better to ignore him because he is very friendly and would love to say hello and get petted but then it's harder for him to do his job.
Hardy hanging out at the mobility van dealership

We left there at about 2:30 and headed up to our agility class. For the first part of the class, Hardy was butt-tucking all over the ring, taking extra tunnels, not paying close attention but generally having a wonderful time! About half way through, he suddenly focused again and did an amazing job with an 18 obstacle course. He also did his first full-height teeter totter without any hesitation or reluctance! As we were leaving, our instructor, Ana asked me what we'd learned ... apparently, I incorrectly answered when I said that I'd learned my dog was a lunatic. Ana seemed to think the lesson was that Hardy needs a bit of time going from a long day of working and looking after me and then getting to play on the agility equipment. I'm guessing that's closer to the correct answer!