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.