Sunday, January 31, 2010

Crazy Pelicans? No Big Deal!

Here's just a little example of what I like about Alfie's personality. We're constantly running into the strange, the odd, or the unexpected and he just seems to take it in his little puppy stride.

[Below: video of Alf & me walking up to this strange little pelican whirlybird stuck in someone's front yard...its body swings around in the breeze on a horizontal axis while its wings whirl on a vertical axis....Alfie walks calmly up toward it to investigate]

I love how he's curious, but not reactive...doesn't try to run away, bark, or attack the admittedly bizarre piece of yard art! I know it's not a really big deal but it's just an example of his whole easy-going outlook on life. Gotta love it!

On a side note, do any of you puppy raisers out there, like me, enjoy the extremely rare moment when you're talking to someone out in public...and they don't bring up the dog? Don't get me wrong, I love to talk to folks about guide dogs, puppies, and all...and I think it's important for us to educate people when possible! But today I happened to be at Whole Foods looking for a certain type of tea, and one of their staff helped me find just the right thing...we chatted about the products, etc...and he never once asked me a doggy question. All of a sudden I realized, Wow, this is so unusual! He assisted me with such calm nonchalance that one might think Alfie was the third or fourth adorable, chocolate-colored labradoodle-guide-dog-in-training to stop by today, and it was really not a big deal. I loved it! But in the checkout line, it was back to the usual ...people pointing and oohing. Sigh! I really don't do this for the attention, but it seems to come with the territory!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Training Opportunities

Yesterday the kids and I were out shopping at Barnes & Noble, with Alfie along of course.
Alfie sits next to a bookshelf, staring intently up at me
Enough with the books already!  Let's do something else!

We're all book lovers in our family so our visit was dragging on a bit...after a while I could see that Alfie was just bored out of his little skull.  So I decided to let him find me a seat while the girls finished their shopping. 

This he did with alacrity...only much to my dismay, when we got to the seating area, it had been kind of trashed.  There were empty cartons of chocolate milk and crumpled napkins strewn over the floor.  I'll confess, my first thoughts weren't too charitable...I was a bit put out at kids who'd leave such a mess, or parents who'd let them.  But then it dawned on me -- hey! -- I couldn't ask for a better training opportunity! 

First off, it was a great chance to practice "leave it," because of course such trash is almost irresistible to puppies.  Alfie really did not want to pass up the chance to chew on all that smelly stuff...until I got an (even smellier) dog treat out of my pocket!  That, and some obedience practice, helped get him re-focused.  I'll bet we looked silly to other people, doing our work in the midst of a mini-dump...they had no way of knowing that I didn't drop all that trash on the floor myself! 

Then I decided that after sitting there, I couldn't just leave it like it was.  Another great training opportunity:  I could pick up the trash and ask Alfie to help me find a trash can to throw it away.  So that's what we did, piece by piece.  I picked up a milk carton and asked him to find the trash can.  I knew there was one nearby, but he didn't, so a bit of a hesitant search ensued.  When he finally found it, you should've seen the look on his face...and the wagging of that tail!  He was so proud!  Then we went back for more...that was the really hard part, because now that Alfie knew where the trash can was, he hit the end of the leash almost running with eagerness to get me back there.  Oops!  He's supposed to guide me, not drag me!  So, again, a great opportunity to slow him down and practice "steady."  By the time we got done, we were both happy...and exhausted! 

black & white shot of Alfie's head as he lies between the car seats on the way home, eyes half closed
I think I'll sleep all the way home!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Favorite Grooming Tool

stylized photo of a heart-shaped cookie in my hands

A high-tech gadget?  Nope.  For Alfie's basic grooming, all you really need is a good comb and 2 of my secret weapon:  yummy (I guess, haven't really tried them!) organic dog cookies.  They're big enough that he can crunch on one for quite a while as I'm combing...then I show him the 2nd one, and he knows he can't get it 'til I finish. 

Alfie doesn't really like being restrained for grooming...he used to put up a fuss and make this noise that sounded exactly like a Tasmanian devil straight from a National Geographic nature documentary.  Yikes!  I think persistence is paying off though, and he does enjoy cuddling on my lap...that, and the cookies!

Alfie snuggles in my lap as I comb him

Monday, January 25, 2010

Growing Up Fast

Alfie sits in some greenery near a tree trunk, looking at the camera.  His curly fur is the color of a dark-roast coffee over most of his body, lighter chocolate around his face and pinkish brown nose.  In the sun his eyes look greenish.
At almost 4 months...Alfie weighed in at 20.2 lb at our vet's office today.  Dr. Boggs thinks he's on track to grow to about a 45-lb ...that's considered "standard" size for doodles, or large in layman's terms.  A great size for a guide dog!  He was one of the larger puppies in his litter, as I recall. 

So far out of my limited experience raising pups for GDTx (he's #3), Alfie is the most intense learner.  He loves, loves, loves his work.  Yesterday he went over and nuzzled his jacket and sat by the front door in hopes of a walk...before we'd even had a chance to let him outside in the morning! Hasn't he ever heard of a shower and breakfast?!  Silly boy!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bright Sunshiny Day sky...we just had to walk outside today!  After all, it's important for Alfie to understand that all his walking "rules" apply just as much out on a walking path as they do on city sidewalks and inside stores.  Of course we practiced obedience work too, like sit/stay...
Alfie in blue jacket, sitting in the sunshine with his leash on the ground
...and down/stay.
Alfie in a down on the path
I wish I could say that Alfie ignored the beautiful roadrunner gliding ahead of us due to his excellent training, but that wouldn't be quite true...
roadrunner barely visible in the distance in tall dry grass
He did ignore the roadrunner, but I'm pretty sure he just didn't see it in all the tall grass ahead!

More excitement ensued when we found that, due to recent rains, our normal route was flooded!  Alfie was definitely game for forging ahead...I tried to explain that fording river crossings probably wouldn't be in his job description as a guide dog.  So it was back to the alternate -- dry -- route.  Overall, Alfie did great, walking on a loose lead, paying good attention (for a puppy!) and not getting distracted by all the new smells.  Good job Alf!

closeup of Alfie's face as he sits in front of flooded creekbed

There's nothing like getting outside for an afternoon!

Alfie & I walking on trail among tall oaks

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Step By Step

Alfie loves to learn, and the more things I can give him to do, the happier he seems to be!  It's fun to work with an eager beaver, and a good day's work also helps to take the edge off of his puppy mischief.

Alfie staring intently straight up
Red alert!  Low branch dead ahead!

Lately we've been working on overhead obstacles -- such as when a low branch overhangs my path.  He didn't pay them much attention until one day I pretended to actually hit my head on a branch, making a really big deal like I was horribly hurt!  Now he seems to anticipate the "overhead" game more, and is just beginning to develop the ability to scan above when prompted.   Eventually, he'll have to do it on his own to help keep his partner safe. 

Most days, we have two usually outdoors, one in an indoor environment.  Alfie likes "finding" things for me, such as the trash can in the picture below.  Probably his favorite thing to find, though, is the button at crosswalks.  He goes right up to the post and points to it with his nose!  We'll have to try and get a picture of that sometime -- it's kind of cute.

Alfie indicates a trash can by sitting next to it
Doing our part to keep Austin litter-free.

One nice thing about walking Alfie out in the neighborhoods is that so far, he's relatively unconcerned about other dogs.  I say "relatively" because of course he's interested in them; but he doesn't really misbehave or go nuts trying to meet them.  He treats them pretty much as he does human passersby, giving them a friendly, smiling, tail-wagging look and then getting back to work. 

Having a new puppy is kind of like having a seems I notice everything so much more as Alfie experiences it for the first time.  Everything from the barking dogs I'd tuned out, to the blowing leaves I never noticed -- it's all new to him.   Funny how that works!

Alfie and me on a footbridge; he's sitting looking up at me
See, I'm good for you!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Home Again

closeup of Alfie's face as he watches alertly

We're back from our trip, and so is Alfie!  When Michelle dropped him off this morning my first reaction was:  He's so big!  Amazing how a puppy can grow in just five days.  He's starting to be quite a handsome boy and is built fairly square and sturdy, taking more after his lab heritage in that regard...a good thing for guide work. 

Of course like any parent I was extremely concerned about how my charge did while away from home!  Apparently he was quite vocal -- since he normally doesn't bark much at home I don't know how much I can do about that.  Hopefully it was just due to all the excitement, plus having another dog in the household.  But it did sound like his work was good, even with a new handler...great news!  A big, big thanks to Natalie for puppysitting!

Sadly, we returned to a broken furnace & no heat except for space I've been stuck at home waiting for a repairman and can't take Alfie for a walk.  We've played quite a few rounds of fetch though, and done a bunch of obedience work, so all in all the day hasn't been wasted.

Alfie in the backyard
How about a walk already?!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

...And He's Off!

Alfie walking briskly along in his puppy jacket, head and tail high to college, that is!  While the four of us head to California for a short family trip, Alfie is going to stay with Natalie (  Pretty soon she'll be getting her own GDTx puppy to raise, and who knows, maybe we can return the favor and do some puppysitting for her sometime!  In the meantime, though, Alfie's going to make sure she's all practiced up.  Since Natalie's college classes start back next week, it looks like Alfie will get to join! 

closeup of Alfie's face looking rather thoughtful
Please oh please be a good boy, Alfie! 

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Spring Semester

The new semester has started, not only for our family's homeschooling, but for Alfie.  His walks have gotten longer and more challenging. Alfie seems happiest when he's mentally engaged!

Here we are at the Texas State Capitol. It's a great place to train...

sitting on a bench in front of the Capitol building, Alfie sitting next to me

...because it's usually crowded, giving us lots of chances to practice the concept that we're here to work, not play with the cute kids!

I'm sitting on a bench inside the Capitol, holding Alfie's collar with one hand, trying to keep a toddler & her mom from petting him

The Capitol is also full of things for puppies to "find," like seats...

Alfie guides me to a bench in the Capitol rotunda area

...and trashcans, our newest find.

Alfie gets a treat for guiding me to a trashcan

We practiced "heel" and walking on a loose lead...

...and did some obedience, like "down/stay."

Alfie outside lying down, head up, leash on the ground, in down/stay

We discovered pigeons, which are interesting...

pigeons pecking the ground on a grassy area in front of a cannon on Capitol grounds

...but even better when chased by little boys!  Alfie seemed to understand, however, that he couldn't join in.  He seemed content just to be a spectator. 

Another recent outing was to the mall. Of course we practiced finds...

sitting on a bench in the mall, having been guided there by Alfie

Alfie alertly sitting next to the trashcan, waiting for me to throw something away so he can get his reward
...and stairs...

rear view of Alfie going up stairs, stretching those little legs!

...and did some people-watching (Alfie found the bungee-rides, barely visible in the background of the photo, intriguing!)

Alfie, on upper level, pokes his nose thru the bars to watch a boy on the bungee ride

Good work,'ll get an A+ for today!

front view of Alfie sitting & looking up eagerly

Saturday, January 2, 2010

...And Now, the Bright Side

close-up of Alfie & me

As if to get even with me for sharing about all his shortcomings, Alfie has shown marked improvement in his manners over the last couple of days.  Granted, he still has a mischievous streak about a mile wide, but by limiting his freedoms and giving him more work to focus on, we've seen a noticeable difference.  Yay!!

I thought it'd be fun to share his training progress too.  At 13 weeks, here's what he's learned so far (some of these are kind of obvious, like knowing his name, but when I make a list it always makes me feel better to list as much as possible!!):

  • Alfie
  • come
  • watch me
  • fetch (well, okay...I can take no credit for this; as Tim put it, Alfie came with the fetch software already installed; we just linked the behavior to the command!)
  • sit (which is really a sit-stay, until released; we're working on that part!)
  • go free (release command)
  • down (really down-stay, again, a work in progress)
  • wait
  • off
  • leave it
  • go busy (the all-important potty command!)
  • heel (not too good at this one yet)
  • find the seat (his newest achievement, where he indicates a place I can sit down)
  • go to bed
Alfie in his blue jacket, demonstrating the sit & watch me commandsYesterday Charissa and I took Alfie for a training walk to Walmart and he did beautiful-
ly.  We were so pleased!  I didn't think that New Year's might be a busy shopping day, but it was.  Alfie did quite well in the noisy crowds, even when a little group of teenagers insisted on following behind him for a while howling!  Yes, really!!  We just ignored it and went on.  To Alfie it was just part and parcel of the great new experience and he didn't give it a second thought.  He probably thinks it's normal for people to walk around howling now!  But the best part was when we went to check out.  Even in the express lane, we had to line up behind several others, so I put him in a down to wait.  We had been standing there, chatting and waiting for several minutes when a girl in the next line over glanced down and gasped to see Alfie.  She hadn't even noticed him at first, he'd been so unobtrusive!  That was my proud moment for the evening, as you can imagine!

close-up of Alfie's face with large brown nose and curly chocolate fur

You see, I can be very good when I want to be!