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!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

We Just Participated in the 2011 ACVO/Merial Service Dog Eye Exam

This afternoon, we took the Labs down to see Dr. Bobofchak at Eye Care for Animals in Akron as part of the free eye exams given to service dogs compliments of ACVO (American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists) & Merial. In the past, Laurel has seen a different board certified ophthalmologist but the day her office did the exams this year didn't work for us. Dr. Bobofchak offered the exams any day in May.
The past two years, the doctor had seen some discolored spots of pigment in Laurel's eyes that apparently, could be nothing or could turn into something awful. This year, Dr. B didn't see the spots so that was great news! 
He did, however, notice that Hardy has Distichiasis, which is the presence of abnormal hairs growing from the edge of the eyelid. Sometimes, there are no symptoms but, as in Hardy's case, the abnormal eyelashes can cause irritation to the cornea. As a result, he has a gummy discharge so Dr. B recommended that he perform a cryoepilation. While Hardy is under general anesthesia, he will use a fine needle probe with liquid nitrogen to freeze the root and kill the hair. Since it is causing irritation and we don't want to risk a corneal ulcer, we have planned the procedure for the beginning of June.
Unfortunately, that diagnosis was not the bad news ... while looking at Hardy's retinas, Dr. B saw that he has geographic retinal dysplasia, a horseshoe shaped area of retinal folds above the center of vision in one eye. Thankfully, it is not progressive and Dr. B doesn't think it will ever effect his eyesight (although he may have a slightly higher chance of having a detached retina at some point). It is hereditary - caused by recessive genes so even though Hardy's parents are CERF tested and certified, they must both be carriers. Hopefully, the only way it will ever effect Hardy is that he will never be used for breeding - the concern would be for his offspring. We will wait until he is 18 months - 2 years old and then he will either have a vasectomy or be neutered. 
I immediately called Hardy's breeder and she was stunned and understandably upset. We weren't planning to neuter him - since he is such a handsome dog with lovely conformation and such a great temperament, I wanted to have the chance to use him to get my next service dog candidate. However, the more I see of Donna and her dogs, the more impressed I am - I would have asked to use one of her bitches to breed Hardy to anyway so I am confident that I will be able to find another wonderful puppy in 3-4 years when we are looking for my next service dog candidate. Even though, I must admit to being pretty sad when we got the news and I kept thinking that this shouldn't be happening since I did everything right this time! But, as Brent pointed out, nothing is certain in life and Hardy is still the same great dog today as he was yesterday!
A cameraman from our local Fox 8 television station came to our exam and videotaped it so all of us were on the 6:00 News for all of 30 seconds but it was a great piece about the veterinarians who do these complimentary eye exams! And I am very grateful to ACVO, Merial, the sponsors and local veterinarians who donate their time and services to protect the eye health of various types of working dogs (police, search & rescue, therapy as well as service dogs)! It was certainly better to find out about Hardy's eye issues now instead of later - we can treat the one and will watch the other through the annual eye exam. 
There isn't a link for the video so I have included a couple photos I took of the piece playing on our television:
Walking into Dr B's office - the Labs' eyes were dilated

Laurel's exam

Hardy's eye exam

Dr. Bobofchak talking about the free eye exams

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Had a Wonderful Vacation at Ridge View Labradors!

Brent and I went to visit our son, Devin and his boyfriend, Anthony, this weekend in New York City. Originally, we were going to fly and had planned to leave Laurel & Hardy at his breeder, Donna's place in Huntsburg (that's why we had them spend an overnight there last weekend). We decided to drive but due to my problem with separation anxiety, we stuck with our plan to let Laurel and Hardy stay at Ridge View Labradors. 
It was a really good thing that we did the "try out" last weekend because I was able to drop my Labs off Friday morning and head to New York without worrying about them. Huntsburg is east of us so we got up a bit earlier than we normally would have when driving to NYC to drop them off on our way.  When we let Laurel and Hardy out of the van, they both ran to the front door and when Donna opened it, they ran right in like they were at home!  We left their crates with them, took their meals in individual bags, sent along some treats for all the dogs to share as well as a paper with our contact information, veterinarian info etc. While we were still there, both Labs were very comfortable and happy ... when we headed to the door, Laurel attempted to leave with us. 
It's been a long time since we traveled without at least one dog and although we missed having the dogs with us, it was really easy doing the trip by ourselves! We stopped and had a sit-down lunch (something we don't ever do when taking a long drive) and still arrived in Brooklyn in plenty of time to find a parking spot, unpack, settle in and still get to Lincoln Center in time for the New York City Ballet's performance at 8:00 pm. 
Because I felt so comfortable with having the Labs at Donna's, I have to admit that it was Saturday evening after we returned from another NYC Ballet performance before I stopped and thought about how Laurel and Hardy were doing. I didn't feel compelled to call because I knew Donna would have contacted us if there were any problems. We had a lovely relaxed Sunday and it was terrific getting to be with Devin on Mother's Day (first time in years and years)! Monday morning, we left at 6:30 am in an attempt to miss congestion at a couple construction areas we had seen on Friday. That allowed us to get to Ridge View Labradors at about 2:00. When we arrived, Laurel and Hardy were in the house with about 8 other Labs and Donna. They were happy to see us but then so were all the other dogs! 
Donna said that they had been very good, got along beautifully with all the other dogs (about 17 Labs and 3 Mastiffs) and settled in nicely. She said that Laurel was pretty "licky" and clingy Friday but that by Saturday, she had settled down and was enjoying herself. She slept every night with Donna (which no doubt helped her feel at home). Hardy settled right in and became best friends with a female Mastiff about his age! At first, Hardy was uncertain about going upstairs (which aren't carpeted) so he stayed at the bottom crying. Donna ignored him and soon enough, he joined everyone else upstairs. Once he got used to the stairs, he ran up and down just like everyone else. Our Labs also got to spend time out in the yard with Donna which they really enjoyed! 
We have no doubt that Laurel and Hardy really enjoyed their time at Ridge View Labradors and it also seems that they had a nice vacation where they didn't work and Laurel didn't worry. They were happy to leave with us and we're all glad to be back together but I promised that we'd send them out there every couple months for a nice weekend. That way they've have some vacation time and hopefully, we'll all avoid separation anxiety! 
Thank you, Donna, for taking such good care of our Labs!
Hardy & Maggie, happy to be sleeping together again!

Everybody happy together again!