Saturday, April 30, 2011

We're struggling with separation anxiety here ... not the Labs ... Mom & Dad!

Yesterday, we took Laurel and Hardy out to stay with Hardy's breeder, Donna Reece at Ridge View Labradors (in Huntsburg, OH). We used to leave Laurel pretty regularly with our then-trainer and her family in Columbia Station (which is, unfortunately, about an hour in the wrong direction when we are traveling). And, of course, I left Hardy in Canada for several weekends and then three weeks last summer. Since then, however, I have been negligent in not leaving them for more than a couple hours at our house. And I say I've been negligent because I know that separation anxiety is one of the biggest issues for owner-trained service dogs so it's my job to make sure that my dogs are away from me enough so they don't suffer from it. 
Well, as it turns out ... Laurel and Hardy had a wonderful time visiting with Donna and the 5 or 6 yellow Labs that were in the house with them! Brent and I really missed them while Maggie, the cat, thought it was kind of nice to be the only animal in our house! When we went to get them this afternoon, we were met at the door by all the dogs who were getting along beautifully! We'll go back to scheduling overnight visits every couple months and we'll have a place to leave them when we go away without them. The best thing about it is that I won't worry the next time we leave them there! 
On the way home, we stopped at my favorite place in the MetroParks to go for a quick walk. On our way back to the car, I took both Labs to see how well it would work to walk them together. Although I'm sure it would make it easier to use a coupler, they did beautifully walking to my left  with Hardy on the outside. We saw lots of other dogs but all were on leash and well behaved. The only negative thing that happened was when a guy on a a very fast, very quiet bike came racing past us from behind without any warning and almost ran over Hardy. We saw him do the same thing to other people with and without dogs as well. I have to admit that I yelled at him. What he did was scary and discourteous, not to mention dangerous for the people and dogs he raced past but also for him! And, of course, just as all of us were recovering, he came racing back past us going the other direction! Unless he's not smart enough to realize how dangerous it was, we suspect he was trying to intimidate all of us so that we'll stop using the path. I'm still going to take my guys there but I certainly hope I don't run into him again!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Some of Hardy's Activities with video and photos

 Hardy went to church with us Sunday (Easter) and once again, behaved beautifully! One thing I have had to accept is that members of our church (most of whom are personal friends) are, in fact, going to talk to and pet my service dogs. It doesn't matter that there is a patch on each vest telling them not to or that our minister has announced in church that you shouldn't (and he is an offender himself). Some of them will approach us saying, "I know I shouldn't but ...!" I will remind them that they shouldn't bother a dog who is working and I'll let them know why but I use the time to work with my dog on what they should do when someone want to talk to them and pet them. Both of them are good at coming back to me, reconnecting and refocusing on work - it is easier and more natural for Hardy. This Sunday's service was longer than usual and included communion. Hardy was laying comfortably next to me in the row so we passed the communion trays over him. 
Hardy's first C-WAGS Rally trial

Hardy doing his first Zoom 1 run

Hardy watching me carefully during our rally run

Hardy's lovely stride in our Zoom 1 run

Hardy checking to see what we're doing next
Monday and today, we worked on rally and obedience skills - especially the long sits and downs. We are starting the formal retrieve with "take" and "hold", using the clicker, of course. I am using a Halti head halter when I don't have the time to work on loose leash walking (when I can't stop or turn around and go backwards every time he gets close to tightening the lead). I am also using it when he is dressed and working out in public - it gives me such nice, gentle and precise control that I may continue that throughout his career. 
Yesterday, we had our agility class. I've included a video from last week which shows the types of exercises and courses we are now doing. He is still only jumping 12 inches in order to protect his growing bones but he does the full height dog walk and A-Frame, a 1/2 height teeter and the tunnels and chutes. Yesterday we had a course that included the teeter and a tire jump. Our instructor, Ana, had sent us videos of nasty tire jump accidents and had reminded us that we need to be careful sending our dogs to the tire jump - we can't be sloppy or treat it as just any other jump. 
Hardy jumped off the teeter while it was still up in the air. We went right back and tried it again with me reminding him to be slow and careful ... he had scared himself some since he came  back and was very deliberate! We did it several more times during the lesson and he regained his confidence but used more care as well. 

After doing the tire jump a couple times in various exercises, we went to do the entire course. Instead of jumping it, Hardy ran right into the tire; knocking down the entire jump and the ring gating next to it. He was unhurt but trapped inside the frame of the jump. He waited and held still when I asked him to and I was able to extricate him successfully. I called him through the jump a couple times (he was a bit reluctant) and then he jumped it with me wheeling past it. We began the course over again and he jumped it with confidence. We did it a couple more times at the end of class. Apparently, no one had lowered the tire jump before we started and although our instructor apologized, I hadn't noticed it either. Even if it had been the correct height, I'm not sure that would have made a difference since it looked like Hardy hadn't bothered to jump. I must admit that if he was going to be sloppy and not jump it successfully, I'm just as glad he did it when the tire was so low that it was resting on the ground. And I'm very impressed with Hardy's level of confidence, trust and willingness - when something doesn't go correctly, he just comes back and tries it again using extra care!
Friday, Laurel and Hardy are going out to his breeders for the night. Brent and I are going to NYC for a long weekend soon and they will be staying with Donna. I must admit that I am already feeling anxious about it. Obviously, I need more work on separation anxiety!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hardy Demonstrates his Public Access Manners at Julie's Memorial Service

 Hardy went with us to my friend, Amy's Memorial Service for her service dog, Julie, this evening. It was held at a local funeral home, DeJohns (they are building a separate facility for pet services but it isn't completed yet). Laurel has gotten used to staying at home and generally doesn't mind but this evening, she really wanted to go with us. I'm guessing it was because she recognized that I was upset. We arrived about 15 minutes early to make sure we could get a van accessible parking spot and so that Hardy would have time to relax before everyone arrived. 
Amy's five other dogs were there and from time to time one or more would whine and bark. DeJohns has a therapy dog who was also present. At one point prior to the service beginning, their dog came running in off-lead to visit with Hardy. He was friendly but obviously, I would have preferred to not have a dog run up to Hardy while he was doing his job. Once again, Hardy's basic temperament and early socialization shone through and he was amazing! 
We sat at the back of the chairs so that we wouldn't block the aisles. Hardy's default down served him well and he settled nicely while Amy's dogs processed in. We sat with friends from Canine Affair so he was surrounded by people he knew but he handled that beautifully. He whined softly once while there wasn't much going on and occasionally, he would get up as if to encourage me to leave but he went right back into a down with a hand signal. 
The service was lovely and emotional - a fitting tribute to an amazing dog! When I got emotional, Hardy kept his eye on me and during the service, he alerted. At first I thought it might be because I was upset but he was insistent so I took my meds and then he relaxed. Sure enough, about 45 minutes later, I developed muscle spasms in both legs. But because Hardy alerted and I took my pain medication and muscle relaxants before they started, I was able to stay. 
Immediately following the service, everyone went outside to write the names of our pets who had passed before onto balloons so that we could do a mass launch. Hardy enjoyed watching the balloons as they disappeared in the air and then Amy launched a balloon which represented Julie. That balloon was mylar and didn't take off very quickly which made it very difficult on Amy - it seemed as though Julie didn't want to leave and of course, Amy really didn't want to let her go. Everyone in the parking lot was thinking about the beloved animals we had lost and that was the most emotional moment  of the evening. 
Following the balloon launch, we headed downstairs to have a reception with food. Hardy and I got to ride in a wheelchair lift just barely bigger than my chair. This particular lift was very slow and noisy and shook as it moved. Hardy was less than thrilled with it so I did lots of treating while we were riding and when we finally arrived, he didn't want to back out before I got my chair out. With a bit of coaxing, he handled it nicely though. 
Hardy under the table at the reception

Hardy asleep under the table
The tables at the reception were large with enough room for Hardy to get under (normally that isn't true, especially since my power chair takes up so much space). When I asked Hardy to go "under" the table, he did so like an old pro - laying down without sniffing or licking and staying there for the entire time. The food was wonderful and we were seated right next to the buffet line. Several people came with Amy's dogs and they sat at the table right next to ours. Although one of the dogs came to say hello to Hardy and invited him to come visit, he did a great job staying under the table. 
Even though he wasn't excited about the prospect of getting back into the chair lift, he did so with just a bit of hesitation and since I gave lots of treats during the trip back upstairs, by the time we got there, he had relaxed and was enjoying himself. 
All in all, it was a long evening - about three hours spent at the Funeral Home and I couldn't have asked for more from my one year old young man! It was a beautiful service and a loving, emotional tribute to a special service dog!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In Tribute to Julie

A friend of mine lost her service dog, Julie, today. To quote from the loving memorial published in a local newspaper, the News Herald:
Julie Rowen, adopted November 1, 1999, lost her battle to cancer at the age of 11. Julie's life and roles were extensive and versatile. Many people will remember her as a competitive agility champion, others as a dedicated service dog. Despite the magnitude of ribbons and trophies Julie won throughout her life, for agility, flyball, tracking and dock diving, that is not how she should be remembered as she was mostly a loyal, loving companion. Julie's achievements in her short life would surpass anyone's expectations. Tracking lost children or dogs and alerting loved ones, and sometimes strangers, of illness, her life was truly dedicated to service to others. Julie assisted with training other dogs with behavioral problems. She was also a co-author of the children's book, "Waggin' Tails" and very much enjoyed visiting children at schools or at their homes to entertain and cheer them. Instead of flowers the family request that donations be made to: or ~
Just last week, Julie was on a local television station "doing the weather" as a representative for all service dogs. Not that long ago, she was still competing in agility and she came to our training hall to do a quick run-thru in rally five days ago. This morning, Amy realized it was time to let Julie go and I know that there are many people grieving with her. 
I have been surprised by how much I have been affected by Julie's illness, her fight to live and now, her death. Since first meeting Amy, I have felt a kinship - we both had female yellow Labs who alerted to medical issues most people don't realize are possible. Amy has five other dogs - she'd like one of them to take over alerting but none have proven ability. I asked if she expected them to alert in the same way Julie had and suggested that she might need to look for something different. More recently Amy indicated that she thinks one of her other dogs might have tried to alert on occasion, but it's nothing that she would trust or count on. I'm very sorry that not only is Amy having to go through the loss of an incredibly special dog but she now doesn't have a dog to alert to a life threatening condition. 
Certainly, this is a big part of why I got Hardy while Laurel was still young and working. I'm hoping to extend her working life by having two dogs to handle the workload now as well as having a successor for when she needs to retire. I was hoping Laurel would teach Hardy to alert but I also knew that she might actively discourage him from "doing her job" and/or he might not think there was any need because she was already doing it. The fact that Laurel and Hardy take turns alerting (which means that the other one can be off duty and resting) is what we were hoping would happen and is more than we really expected! This is something for which I am extremely grateful!
On the other hand, although I've tried to prepare for the time when Laurel would need to retire and then eventually, to leave me; having another alerting dog won't lessen my grief. Besides being my first service dog, Laurel is the dog who taught me about the possibilities: I got her to be my mobility dog and that would have been enough but as my alert dog, she has changed my life in truly amazing ways!
I believe that is who Julie is to Amy and so I can empathize with her and wish that there would be something I could do to help. We'll be at her memorial service Saturday to show our respect to this amazing dog and to support Amy and all who love her. Godspeed, Julie and we hope you find comfort and peace, Amy!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Weather's Been Nicer and Overall, Hardy had a Great Week!

The beginning of our week didn't seem promising since Kristen, Sean (her boyfriend) and Soapy left early Monday morning on their long drive to Skagway, Alaska. All of us enjoyed their visit immensely and are missing them already! Hardy, especially, loved having his "cousin" here to play with and he's feeling the loss the most, I think. 
Instead of laying around missing everyone, Hardy and I ran some errands (while Laurel took a nap). We picked up a prescription and a couple items at the drug store and took a deposit to the bank. He was very well behaved and received many compliments from employees and other customers alike. In the evening, we went to the rally class - we did some mini-courses to work on the various exercises and I recognized that Hardy struggles with focus and enthusiasm at the beginning of the course; once he gets going, he can be brilliant! Obviously, I need to work on developing that from the very start. After the rally class, Laurel got to come in and play "obedience dog". We worked on directed jumping, retrieve on the flat and over a jump, drop on recall, and the go outs. We tried to connect the go out with a directed jump and discovered that we need to work on that. Besides using treats, I'm also using a ball as a reward - Laurel finds that combination extremely motivating and she is a happy, happy worker!
Tuesday, Hardy and I attended an obedience class - we worked on long sits and downs with distractions. Although we are working on this, Hardy still tends to sit in a sloppy "puppy sit". We've been working on having him sit up and straight by asking him to sit and clicking just as his butt hits the ground and then throwing the treat so that he doesn't sit back and get sloppy. Obviously, he can sit "well" but it seems to be difficult for him. And when he is doing a long sit, he tends to slide into a down - he doesn't get up and go anywhere but he doesn't remain sitting either. So while his down stay is really solid, we need to keep working on the sit stay. We also worked on changes of pace and in order to have him enthusiastic as we step off heeling, I did a lot of starting off fast from a halt. I'm sure I can work through it with him but this certainly reminds me again just how different Laurel and Hardy really are! After class, Laurel got to come in and do some more obedience. She did very well and we were able to do a send out and then a directed jump on her way back to me. Then Hardy had his first "big boy" agility class. He's still jumping 12 inches but also does the full height A-Frame and Dog Walk, 1/2 height teeter, tunnels & chutes and has the beginnings of 6 channel weaves. For class, we performed a number of exercises which involved having a tunnel wrapped around one end of the dog walk and then did a complete 19 obstacle course. Hardy handled the tunnel to dog walk entrances going both ways beautifully and I have to admit that I was amazed at how well he did with the entire course. So far, he does not take the jumps very seriously - of course, he can trot over a 12 inch jump so he often knocks down the bars. However, he did the course without any knockdowns while completing the contacts (dog walk and teeter) and tunnels beautifully.  
Wednesday and Thursday, Hardy and I went for walks at the MetroParks on our way to my Levels classes. There is an entrance to the park right on my way to Canine Affair and the weather was cool and beautiful. We had a great time - Hardy is a joy to walk with and we spent some time enjoying the scenery with him sniffing to his heart's content. He also did demos for my class which is always fun! 
Yesterday and today the weather has turned nasty again (cold and wet) so we worked on things around the house. If the weather cooperates tomorrow, Hardy will get to run around outside with his Border Collie friend, Xen, while we visit with our friends, Ana & Rob. Xen is not Laurel's biggest fan but we'll see if they do better outside with lots of running room!

Hardy's a great young man but he's not Laurel!

Probably like with children, I shouldn't compare Hardy to Laurel but I do (and to be honest, although I tried not to compare our son, Devin, to his older sister, Kristen, occasionally I did that too). If I'm going to do it, I should definitely compare Hardy to Laurel at the same age but I usually don't ... when I compare, I compare Hardy to Laurel now. Obviously, that's not fair since Hardy just turned 1 year old on Sunday and Laurel will be 5 at the beginning of June. Additionally, I was working much harder with Laurel at this age while I have had the luxury to focus on Hardy's socialization and basic living skills while enjoying his puppy-hood and adolescence. As my first attempt to raise and train a service dog, poor Laurel was subjected to unnecessary pressure caused by my stress-level because it was so important she make it as my public access service dog,especially once she showed her natural abilities to alert to my medical problems. 
Just as we found that raising children was much more difficult (as well as wonderful) than we had expected, we realized that was true for raising a puppy service dog candidate as well. Additionally, family members who had been completely supportive of the "service dog idea" weren't prepared for the intrusion and bother that being involved with our puppy/SDiT presented for them. Certainly with a puppy and through at least the first part of the service dog in training period, it is hard work without the benefits of having the dog do task(s) to mitigate your disability. I realize that I could not do that without the help of my husband and even with that, since I only have so much energy and physical ability in a given day, working with the puppy or young dog takes precedence over other things I might like to do. 
I certainly believe that my service dogs will be learning new things their entire lives (as I hope I will be too) but there is a point when going out in public together becomes much easier and the help the dog provides outweighs to effort involved. Because of our years training together, that is where Laurel and I are at; Hardy and I are not there yet. However, because Hardy has such a lovely, stable temperament, all the things that we don't have yet are those that I can train. And because of that temperament, being out in public is easier for him than it is for Laurel. However, she knows and understands what I am doing and what I need; things which Hardy doesn't yet get. Hence, I have decided that I will continue public access training and work on task training with Hardy - meaning that I will generally take him out with me (understanding that he cannot yet do what Laurel does). This means I'll be leaving Laurel home on those occasions but will ask her to help me there and when we are out doing dog-related things (classes, trials etc). Because my two Labs have gotten so good at taking turns, I am confident this will work nicely for all of us!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Happy 1st Birthday, Hardy!

Today is Hardy's first birthday! I'm both amazed that he's a year old already and amazed that we've only had him for 10 months - he fits into our family so well that it seems like he's been with us much longer and we couldn't imagine life without him! 
This past week, Laurel and Hardy have certainly enjoyed having Kristen and their "cousin", Soapy (the Pointer) visiting. Soapy is about 2 1/2 months older than Hardy and neither of them are neutered but they were both raised by Laurel (a wonderful puppy-raiser), know how to play while laying down indoors and get along beautifully! 
When out in public, Hardy continues to demonstrate wonderful aptitude for service dog work - his public access behavior shows great promise. We went to church this morning and he behaved beautifully - he was easy to be with and showed great patience and tolerance. Because the "down" is his default behavior, I was able to concentrate on the service and in fact, about half way through, he was sound asleep. 
His alerting skills have proven to be as predictive and accurate as Laurel's which means that he already does tasks to alleviate my disability. We will begin working on the mobility tasks that I want him to do now - picking things up, opening & closing doors and drawers, pushing buttons etc. We will also be going for walks/runs at the MetroParks near our home to help his fitness level (and possibly slim him up a bit). Obviously, we will continue with obedience skills and will continue our rally class, work on conformation skills and agility. In fact, Hardy has been promoted to a "big dog" agility class - beginners - which we begin Tuesday! I'm afraid he's going to be disappointed to discover that he will still only be jumping 12 inches for several more months but, he is doing full height A-Frames and Dog Walks, the Teeter at 1/2 height; he loves tunnels and chutes and is doing well with channel Weaves!
I must say that at this milestone in my young man's life, I continue to be very grateful that I was able to have our service dog trainer, Sue Alexander, temperament test puppies for me using the CARAT test. Even though I thought I wanted a yellow female, this chocolate boy continues to prove that he is the right dog for me! I'm also very grateful for our summer in Canada - all the puppy classes and socialization opportunities we had during that important window in his life took a talented, balanced young puppy and helped him become a pretty incredible young man! Thanks again, Sue, John and everyone else at Dogs in the Park!