Thursday, December 31, 2009

Facing Down the Dark Side

Ever notice how for every desirable canine trait -- there's a "down side" to that same trait if it's not properly channeled?  Well, at about 3 months old now, let's just say that our dear little Alfie is in need of a lot! 

His self-confidence makes him a delightful companion, as nothing seems to rattle him at all.  Just what you want in a future guide dog!  But by the same token, Alfie's also completely convinced that he should be in charge around the house and is having a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that not only is he NOT in charge...he never WAS in charge...and never WILL be in charge...EVER!  To try to help him with this one, I've had him tethered to me by a double-long leash for the past couple of days.  This cuts down on any mischief, and it's also starting (let's hope!) to help him see that I'm the leader, he's the follower. 

Alfie on leash, sitting and looking up at me, panting
But you don't understand;  I'm a natural born leader!

That innate intelligence that we just love to see in working dogs has its dark side, too...Alfie's always trying to use it to get a step ahead.  For example, he quickly worked out the basics of potty training, and has learned to shake a string of jingle bells hanging on the back door when he wants a potty break.  When I started tethering him to me a couple days ago, though, he figured out that he could ring the "doorbell," pretending that he had to go outside; then I'd let him off the leash by the backdoor; and ZOOM, quick as thought he'd slipped my grasp and was running all around the house in doggy hysterics, practically laughing his head off that I'd fallen for his little scheme!!

Then there's that incredible ability that service dogs have for "reading" people...they're constantly alert for minute changes in our mood, body language, voice, even scent.  Eventually, Alfie will use that ability to help him watch out for his human companion...but at the moment he has more sinister purposes in mind!  He's a very keen observer of my every move and when I'm stressed...under a time crunch...on the phone...or distracted...AHA, THAT is the one moment he will choose to grab my pants leg or run off with something I need!  It'd be pointless for him to pull such shenanigans when I'm focused and calm.  No, much better to bide his time and try for the maximum reaction! 

I called Michelle, our puppy program manager, for help and she dropped by to give additional pointers on doggy discipline and (just as important!) moral support.  We're very excited about Alfie's awesome potential and natural abilities.  For the new year, the task remains...turn him from the dark side!
Alfie on leash, lying down in the sun
The force is very strong with this one...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Butterfinger Retriever

We had a very merry Christmas!  I'll admit that we were so busy having fun that we took virtually no photos.  Alfie spent his time rushing around getting into things...fortunately my wonderful family, who were visiting for Christmas, are dog-loving people and were pretty understanding about the realities of puppyhood. 

Now that everyone's gone back home, I'm trying to get Alfie back into his routine as I go about my post-Christmas cleanup chores.  Alfie, having a strong fetching instinct, considers that his part in this endeavor is to locate and retrieve every stray item.  Imagine my surprise when he turned up with this!

Look, I didn't even tear the wrapper!

Well, to be honest, he didn't bring it straight to me.  I noticed him prancing around with something yellow and inquired if he'd be interested in coming and trading for a kibble.  The kibble won out right away, of course.  I was  COMPLETELY APPALLED when I discovered what it was because, as I'm sure you know, chocolate is toxic to dogs.  On the other hand...the chocolate lover in me couldn't help but wonder...have I discovered a new use for this dog?  Imagine the possibilities...a dog who can seek out and retrieve chocolate...WOW. 

Okay, back to reality!  We've checked around and to the best of my knowledge there aren't any more dangerous candies lying about for him to get into (if we only knew the truth, the first one may not have been lying around either...I wouldn't put it past him at all to "fetch" it off the furniture!)  

Here's hoping you all had a very merry Christmas...WITHOUT any Butterfinger Retrievers!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dinner Time

Alfie loves to eat. It may only be dog kibble, but when mealtime rolls around he relaxes and enjoys it like a real gourmand. He's the only puppy we've had who eats lying down!

My family is visiting for Christmas and I thought perhaps all the hustle and bustle of nine people in and around his meal area might bother him...nope! Here he is settling in to enjoy yet another meal.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Shopping

Alfie and I walking through an automatic glass door Katharine asked if I could take her to Borders for a little Christmas shopping, so I decided it'd be a great outing for Alfie too. Here we are going through the automatic doors (which are some of the loudest I've heard, by the way!) Since we knew just what we wanted the shopping didn't take long and pretty soon we were in the checkout line.

The picture below shows something I really like about Alfie: his "watch me" is great! People around were noticing him but he stayed pretty focused on what we were doing. Good boy!

Alfie stares intently up

The guy behind the counter always teases me, "Why do you bring in such cute dogs if I can't pet them?" to which I always reply, "If you could pet them I wouldn't be allowed to bring them in..." It's just like a ritual, this conversation we always have to have. Makes me laugh!

Outside, we walk past an interesting grate. I was trying to go around to the right, Alfie decided to go around to the left. We'll get it together eventually!
Alfie and I on opposite sides of a grate in the sidewalk
Any chance this grate thingy would make a good chew toy?

Then, of course, Alfie notices a little puppy in the shop window who just seems to keep following us...finally he has to check it out and it's only his reflection. He gives me an embarrassed look.

Alfie walking along, looking at his reflection in a plate glass window
I guess it's not real after all!

Before we leave, I take the opportunity of working Alfie on some stairs. He hasn't seen this many all at once before! We got up (the easy part) but as you can see in the video he wasn't too eager to go down at first. He probably would have liked me to carry him! I had to use my silliest "squeaky-toy-voice" to get him started...but then he finished like a champ.
Other than confusing me by trying to walk on my right side afterward, I thought he did pretty well!

Time to go home! Alfie already knows what the "bus" is and when we get there, eagerly goes to the passenger side to get in.
Alfie sits right next to the car door, waiting to get in
That was a pretty good day's work, don't ya think?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Katharine has suggested a new nickname for Alphini: "Sharpie."

"Because of his teeth," she states with impeccable logic, (yeah, OUCH!) "and because he's leaving a permanent mark on our stuff!"

Alfie sitting next to a pile of permanent markers I didn't do it!

Can any of you out there relate to the Sharpie stage of puppyhood? Fortunately, it doesn't last forever...

Alfie outside in the sunshineI'm just a puppy, after all!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

On the Go

I like this picture because it captures our lives for the last couple of weeks: something of a blur!

blurry shot of Alfie and me on a brisk walkThe early weeks and months of puppyhood are important for socialization, so we've tried to get Alfie out into as many different environments, and around as many different people, as possible.

One of this week's stops was the grocery store.

Alfie in his jacket, sitting and looking eagerly at me, in front of a giant red cement apple at the front of the grocery store Ready?

Alfie sniffs a seam in the floorAlfie and I walk down the grocery aisle

Alfie examines a change in the flooring before trotting down the aisles with me.

Another day, we went for a little jaunt downtown.

Alfie sniffs a manhole cover

What in the world is this?

Alfie going up some steps

Alfie bounces down the courthouse steps, front paws in midair

...and down...the courthouse steps!

This morning, we stopped by a farmer's market.

Alfie strains toward a chalkboard near a stand of lettuce

Hey, don't we need some lettuce?

In case you're worried that we're wearing out the little guy...don't! The only one getting worn out here is the driver, I think. That's because, although we go on many different walks, at this age we only walk for a very short time -- just enough for Alfie to have a good training experience -- then leave while he's still eager and happy. The funny thing is that although it may take me ten minutes or so to get ready to go, and another fifteen to twenty minutes to drive to the walk location, the walk itself may only take ten minutes! So we sometimes laugh about calling it a walk when it's really more of a drive!

In any case, Alfie loves his outings and has already learned our getting-ready routines. When the leash and jacket come out he gets all excited and bouncy, controlling himself just long enough for me to get the jacket on.

Alfie in the sunshine, sitting and looking up

Let's go!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cuddle Bug

sleepy brown puppy face snuggled in my lap Someone thinks he is a lap dog. Every time I sit down on the floor I've got a buddy. Good excuse to stop and sit a spell!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Who's In Charge Here?

Katharine holds Alfie in her armsAlphini's already been with us a week and a half! We've been thoroughly enjoying his cuddly, larger-than-life personality.

Yesterday he visited the vet for his 9-week checkup, and weighed in at 9.6 lb. A growing boy!

the vet examines Alfie
Thanks, Dr. Boggs!

I think, though, that puppies should come with a little label: "Some assembly required"! Part of the "assembly" is pretty easy: teaching them to "sit" and "come," for example. But I'll bet most puppy raisers would agree that the hardest part, at least at first, is teaching them what not to do: don't nip, don't jump up, don't soil the house...and, really, don't even think about disassembling the Christmas tree! We just put it up!

Alfie's main confusion lies in his little idea that he's supposed to teach us what to do, not the other way around. What he doesn't know is that we're onto him. Dakota, our last puppy, also went through this stage so we were prepared when Alfie came along with his dreams of ruling the world.

We've been enjoying our walks and have already been quite a few different places. Here we are on one of our first outings.

Alfie lying down, waiting to cross the street Other dogs sit at the curb...Alfie thinks he should lie down.

Alfie darts to my right as we walk
Hey, who's walking who? Alfie keeps me on my toes...literally!

I love Alfie's confidence and curiosity. When he sees something he doesn't understand, he doesn't bark or run away; instead he likes to just sit and study it for a while before going on. Unfortunately, more than once in our early walks, the place he chose to do this was really right in the middle of the automatic doors to the library, with a line of people behind us! A couple of times, I just had to scoop him up and carry him out of the way so that people could get past.

Michelle, our puppy program manager, warned me that if I didn't watch out he'd soon be using this technique to manipulate me and get a free ride whenever he wanted. She must have the inside line on puppies because that's just what happened at the mall.

All went well at we are happily trotting toward the entrance...

Alfie walking toward the mall, tail wagging Woo-hoo! A new place to check out!

The puppies don't ride on escalators, but it's important for them not to be frightened by the sight and sound of them. Not to worry, Alfie only thought they were interesting.

Alfie and I look down at the escalators through a glass barrier

Looks like fun to me!

Alfie sits in front of the escalators
But as we continued our walk, Alfie up and decided that he was ready to be carried. He just sat down and refused to move. He wasn't afraid; his body language was relaxed and happy; he just wouldn't go!
Alfie sitting down in the store

Time for my staff to carry me!

We're not supposed to pull on the leash to get the puppy to move, so it was on to plan B. First I tried luring him along with treats. He went a step or two, then sat down and wouldn't budge. Next I moved on to the squeaky toy. That was interesting for a while, but after a bit he sat down again, indifferent. I tried my most exciting voice to encourage him along, but to no avail. It was becoming clear that he was gaining the upper hand...not good!

Well, there weren't any other shoppers around, and there wasn't anything dangerous that he could get into (we were far from the escalators by now). So it just dawned on me that I was going to have to convince him that he couldn't control me, and the best way to do that was to walk away. I made a show of dropping his leash, turning my back, and walking off. I was only bluffing of course, but I hoped he didn't know it. I had gone all of two steps when he raced up to my side, all full of licking and apology!

Alfie trotting along happily
Don't ever leave me again!

The rest of our walk was absolutely perfect. Alfie bounced along cheerily either at my side, or a little ahead.

Alfie pulls toward the escalators
We rode the elevator down, and when we passed the escalators again, he tried to go for a ride. I stopped him just in time. Silly boy!

All in all, it was a great walk. Alfie's a smart boy...we just have to be smarter than him!

chocolate labradoodle puppy sitting and looking up I'll be a great guide dog one day! Wait and see!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


As you know, the past few days have been pretty hectic and I've spent more time running in and out of the backyard, Alfie in tow, than reading. That's where kids come in -- they're great for keeping you updated with all the latest urgent information, like that a baby robin consumes 14 feet of earthworms a day, or that owls are some of the very few bird species to see the color blue (why, I wonder? And, how did people figure that out?) ...And that, Mom, our blog got an award!

turkey wearing a pilgrim hat, holding a sign saying You're A Blessing! cool is that?! I have to say a big THANK YOU to L^2 ( , you really must see her photography!) and Natalie ( who will be a fellow GDTx puppy raiser soon, yay!) You two are a blessing to us!

The rule of this award seems to be that when you receive it, you have to pass it on to 5 others who are a blessing to you. Our nominees:

  • Dakota and Ben, of course! (blog: Being Dakota's puppy raisers, we are perhaps just a tiny bit biased, but we think they're an awesome team. Since middle school homework probably hasn't let up at all for Ben (and he's brand new to blogging and service dogs) I think we'll all understand if he doesn't pass it on. But I think they deserve some recognition all the same!
  • Clive, fellow doodle and service dog in Ireland! (blog: Okay, so he's a goldendoodle, not a labradoodle, but who's going to split hairs? (Especially curly ones!) We love his work for the "Not so little man" and think he's great.
  • We also enjoy Maddie's blog: Here is a puppy raiser who has accomplished an awful lot for a sophomore in high school! We're pretty sure she is a blessing not only to us, but to others.
  • Rebecca, whose blog chronicles the raising of...count 'em...3 working guide dogs and a therapy dog! She's working on puppy #5 now. Wow!
  • And, how could we leave out Erin? I haven't personally checked her blog this week, so she's probably already gotten this award a few times, but if so it's only because she deserves it! We love her fun blog on training for Wilderwood Service Dogs (, as well as her cool photography blog ( Maybe some day our camera will learn to be like yours, Erin. In the meantime, you're definitely a blessing & inspiration!

Of course we've got many, many other friends and family who are huge blessings to us. Since most of them don't blog, I won't list them all here. But they're special all the same and life just wouldn't be the same without you wonderful people!

...And last but not least, as long as I'm on the subject of blessings...

Alfie slept through the night last night! As in, from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., without whimpering, without any messes in his crate, and went out and busied like a perfect little boy this morning. Those of you who know me and my need for sleep will understand when I say I feel truly blessed. Any puppy who can sleep through the night within the first week a good puppy!

Alfie in his puppy jacket

Of course I'm a good puppy!