Sunday, February 28, 2010

Puppy Playday & Switcheroo

Saturday, Alfie was invited to a guide dog puppy playday at puppy raiser Tracy Schagan's.  Natalie, Darrell, and Bob came too, so there were three puppies:  black lab Celia, yellow lab Bob and chocolate doodle cute together!
three puppies playing; black and yellow lab in foreground, chocolate doodle behind them
Getting good pictures of these three live wires was pretty tough -- although Bob seemed to enjoy posing for the camera!Bob the yellow lab pup laying in a sphinx-like position, smiling for the camera
Bob's so adorable with his wrinkly puppy face!

Bob's sniffing the ground, and his face is all wrinkly and cute
We thought it'd be nice to get a group shot of the raisers and their puppies, but none of us had our leashes outside and the puppies didn't feel like cooperating.  That's Tracy on the left with Celia, who's in the middle of making an escape attempt; I'm in the middle with Alfie; he and Natalie are the only ones actually looking at the camera!  Bob's on the right there with Natalie, looking like maybe he'd rather go play with Darrell.  Oh well, we tried!
the three of us puppy raisers kneeling on the ground outside with our squirmy pups
We all enjoyed the time to relax and the pups had fun wearing themselves out.  Meanwhile though, Tracy and I decided to try a mini-puppy swap, giving our pups a chance to expand their experiences with a new handler and new set of situations.  Alfie will go on an official (and longer!) swap later, but I thought staying with Tracy for a couple of days would be a great addition to his education.  She runs the Greenwood School, a learning center for children, and on any given day she's got about a couple dozen little preschool kids running around the place enjoying all kinds of activities.  What a great experience for Alfie, don't you think? 
Alfie's looking at the camera with a worn-out expression on his face and pink tongue showing
Tracy's already raised several guide dog puppies, so don't worry, he's in good hands!  Meanwhile, we've got Celia for a couple of days. 

Celia laying on the floor, looking up with a spunky expression on her face, mouth open, and bright button eyes

...Think anyone will notice the difference?!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

This & That

Off to the vet today!  Nope, nothing's wrong with was just time for his last puppy vaccination.  As usual, he was a trooper and although excited, behaved pretty well for us.  At 4 1/2 months old, Alfie's between 18 and 19 inches at the shoulder, and weighs in at just over 26 pounds.   I wonder how much of that is fur?

I recently had to give him a haircut around the face, as his shaggy locks hung over his eyes, blocking peripheral vision.  I learned with our last doodle puppy that  this can really hinder their work on overhead obstacles!  Now his face fur is trimmed to about an inch and a half, and the rest of his coat is still around three and a half inches.  Sooo...he looks...FAT!  Dr. Boggs even thought so, until she felt under all the fur and said, nope, she could feel all the ribs and he was just the right weight.  When the weather warms up a bit, I'll see about trimming the rest of him so he seems a little more proportional.  Until then, we'll just enjoy all that soft cuddly fur!

We're still working on those long down/stays I mentioned a couple of posts back.  I think right now, that's his biggest "working" challenge.  We've been practicing a lot, and I think we'll just have to be patient.  There is some progress though...I've been taking him to church with me and last week, one of my young students observed, "Wow, Alfie's so much better this week!  Last week he was terrible, but this week he's way better!" Kids always tell it to you straight, don't they?  I love it! 

Alfie's in that period of puppyhood that our book calls cryptically, "the juvenile period."  According to these experts of understatement, at this time "Chewing is a priority." That is their gentle way of expressing that chewing is almost the ONLY thing the puppy does!   When Alfie notices something new, you can tell his brain is assessing:  #1--Can I fit it in my mouth?  #2--How good is it to chew?  (everything is good to chew -- only some things are better than others, e.g. erasers, pencils, dolls...) and of course there's #3--Can I chew it without being noticed?  In Alfie's defense, I'll note that there's excellent reason for his chewing...he's teething like crazy.  And also, whenever I notice him chewing something inappropriate, all I really have to do is ask him to "fetch" it for me, then substitute it with something actually meant for puppies.  He's got a lot of growing up to do, that's all!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Snow Day

What's that white stuff?!  The rest of the country may be getting a lot of it, but in Austin, snow is still relatively unheard-of.  I remember we had a teeny bit of sleet last year (our puppy Dakota nearly made himself sick trying to eat it all!), but the last time we had enough snow to make a snowball was somewhere around six years ago.

Alfie loves it!  It's invigorating, edible, and best of all the snow got us all outdoors to play with him.  Hooray!

Alfie racing around in the swirling snowflakes, a light dusting of snow is on the ground
...faster than a speeding snowball...

Alfie has picked up a chunk of snow & ice mixed with leaves & is holding it in his mouth; it's almost as big as his head
Let's play fetch with of snow and ice!

closeup of Alfie's nose and snowy face; a big snowflake is falling on his eye, making him blink
That snowflake's gonna land right in my eye!

Friday, February 19, 2010


Well, you probably won't find cards celebrating IWYPRS day at your local Hallmark shop...and I doubt you got it off work!

Alfie sitting next to me in a green field; I'm in my bright blue GDTx T-shirt, looking down at him

But Alfie and I, undeterred by such minor technicalities, wish you a happy International Wear Your Puppy Raising Shirt Day!  We're always happy to participate in events that raise awareness for service dogs and of course it's fun when we puppy raisers get a nod too!

I like my GDTx shirt...I've had it since our first puppy so it's pretty well worn by now!  What do you think of the back?

The back of the shirt has a pair of footprints next to 4 pawprints, and under it the words, It's more than just walking the dog!
Caption on back:  It's more than just walking the dog!

Yeah, walking the dog (although complex in its own right) sometimes seems like the easy part of puppy raising!  There's also the potty training...the "oh no what has he chewed now" moments...and hopefully not too many panicky trips to the vet when your puppy develops mysterious symptoms!  It's cooking him special food when he's sick...sometimes for months!...long conversations with your supervisor (THANKS Michelle!!)...middle-of-the night outings...teaching him that he must respect children as well as adults...and the inevitable goodbyes.

We wouldn't trade it for anything!

closeup of Alfie's nose and paw pads and furry face as he snoozes
No, really, I'm no trouble at all!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lying Down On the Job

Alfie sitting in the car as we load up to go on an outing

I've shared before how much Alfie likes his work, and he does.  But the whole truth is, he likes part of his work...the active part!  He loves commands like "let's go!", "find the...", "steady," "heel," and "watch me." He likes getting out and going places, and he loves get the picture.  But oh man, he does not like to lie still and wait.  And guess what, Alf...that's a big part of being a guide dog!

So yesterday on our family trip to the library, instead of browsing for books as usual, I just had him find me a seat, and we practiced down/stay.  The whole time.  He was one unhappy camper!  He did a nice "tuck in" (getting under my seat and out of the way)...

Alfie lying down between my feet as I sit in a chair; most of his body is under the chair

...but then spent the rest of his time undoing it with his jack-in-the-box impression.  He'd sit up, I'd frown & give him the hand signal to "down"...he'd do it for about a minute...then sit up hopefully, as if to say, "Well, now can we do something fun?"  I'd "down" him again, a couple of minutes would pass, and - pop! - up would come his furry face asking, "OK, how 'bout now?"  Sigh...I could tell this was going to be a long lesson!

I also have a hunch that Alfie, being the assertive/dominant personality that he is (yep -- he looks like a teddy bear but looks would be deceiving!), is especially reluctant to keep a down/stay in public because it is such a submissive posture for a dog.  He'd yawn, and snort, and pant, and show me in a ton of little doggy ways that he'd rather not do this.  Those of you who know me...know that only strengthened my resolve!

Alfie in a down, but now he's turned around so he's facing me and his body and tail are in the walkway
All right Alfie...we'll be here just as long as it takes!

Well, he's far from perfect, but we did make progress!  All in all, I felt it was a good day and made sure that Alfie knew I was happy when he did the right thing.  After the kids checked out their books, I rewarded him for his patience by letting him find me some trash cans on the way out.  That got his tail wagging!

...But the funniest thing to me was how he acted when we got home.  He was completely zapped.  Now, this is a puppy who can literally walk for miles, come home and play fetch, and never miss a beat.  But that "down/stay" business exhausted him!  He found a quiet corner, curled up, and was out like a light. 

Alfie asleep at home -- all you can really distinguish is his nose -- the rest of him just a dark mass of curly fur
It's harder than you think!  Really!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Must Be A Guy Thing...

Alfie resting with his chin on the rug, eyes looking up soulfully
You know, it's an interesting thing about Alphini...that out of all the pups we've either raised or puppysat for GDTx (and it seems like that number adds up after a while!)...Alfie just has this most special affinity for, and bond with, my wonderful husband Tim.  Don't get me wrong -- they've all liked Tim and he enjoys them too -- but Alfie just has a special devotion for him.  It's gotten so that in the mornings, Alfie won't leave with me to go outside without first going over to Tim's side of the bed, nuzzling up, and getting a few pats. 

Well, yesterday morning Tim, who had to jet out early for some meetings, was already up having breakfast when I got up and let Alfie out.  I opened the bedroom door and called Alfie so he could go outside, but he was having none of it -- he had to see Tim first!  When the usual nudging of the covers didn't get him anything, Alfie escalated to jumping on his hind legs and scratching the bed with his front feet -- I'm standing at the door a bit sleepily, but knowing that this isn't acceptable guide dog behavior, I tell him firmly, "NO, Alfie, OFF!"  He grudgingly gets off with an apologetic wag in my direction...only to go over to MY side of the bed and repeat the performance --maybe Tim was tricking him by hiding over there?!  "NO, Alfie, OFF -- let's go OUTSIDE!" I called again, but he was having none of it!  Where was his beloved Tim?  So he rushes around again, getting all agitated and starting to growl and woof in frustration -- at last I call out to Tim where he's having breakfast, "Hey honey, would you mind telling the dog where you are?" Tim walks over and enjoys the show for a couple of seconds before he says really quietly, "Hey, buddy, who are ya looking for?" ...You should've seen Alfie's face!  I don't think I have ever seen a dog so relieved.  He really thought his world had come to an end!

Alfie lying down, looking up with his head cocked alertly to one side
We guys just have to stick together, that's all!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Puppy In Progress

I wonder what color Alphini will end up as he grows? In the sun his reddish undertones come out more and his nose looks more pink.Alfie sitting in front of a tree, sunlight giving his curly coat a reddish cast

...But in the shade he's more of a chocolate.

Alfie in the shade, this time his coat looks a dark chocolate/mocha color

...See what I mean? The last time I brought him to church one of my young students asked, "Didn't he used to be black?" I thought that was kind of cute -- to me he still does look blackish from a distance. I know for sure his eyes are changing color...they used to be green but now, they're more golden.

Of course as far as I'm concerned, he could turn tie-dye and I'll be fine with it as long as he learns his job well! Here we're practicing around some obstacles at a shopping center. I was surprised that he seemed to get the idea that we wouldn't both fit through the openings between the posts (he certainly could have done so on his own!) The first time, since there was an open path on his side, he led me around pretty well (oh -- besides stopping for a long investigative sniff in the bushes -- oops!) I turned him around, curious to see what he'd do when confronted with the obstacles again, but this time with no clear path around on his side. You could almost see the little wheels moving in his head as he sized it up, stopped, then looked up at me with this quizzical "Okay, now what?" look on his face. I love it when you can tell they're thinking and trying to figure things out!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Giant Guitars, Stuffed Animals, and Pigeons -- Oh My!

Alphini and I greet you today from downtown Austin -- which, in case you didn't know, is the live music capitol of the world!

Alfie & I next to a colorful, 12-foot-tall statue of an electric guitar, in front of a busy street and high-rise buildings
Hmm. Is the statue thingy good to chew?

In all honesty, on my own I would seldom get downtown. We just go there to train the dog. Even though we live in a pretty busy area with a lot of traffic, it's nothing like the crowds, traffic, smells, and (of course!) live music of downtown. Alfie needs to learn how to negotiate it all calmly. Here are a few of the things we did today...

I'm sitting on a bench, getting ready to give Alfie a treat to thank him for finding it for me
finding seats

Alfie waiting for me to throw my trash away so he can get a reward for finding the trash can

finding trashcans (look how eagerly he's waiting for his treat!)

Alfie walks back toward me in response to the heel command, tail wagging, licking his nose
practicing "heel" when he gets ahead of me -- he has to circle back to my side in a sort of big backward-s maneuver

rear view of Alfie stretching to climb some steps

negotiating stairs -- tricky for a puppy who's still in that awkward growing stage!
As usual, we also had to practice not doing things!

you can see the back of Alfie's head as he sits watching a couple of pigeons scrounging for crumbs in the distance
not chasing pigeons (they were closer & more tempting than they look here, I promise!)

Alfie sitting, focused on me, right next to a bin full of toy stuffed animals

not grabbing the cute little stuffed animals, even though they're on puppy level

We had some challenging moments, like when someone came racing toward us, trying to catch a bus...Alfie leaped toward him in happy excitement, sure that he must want to play! Then later, while walking down the sidewalk, we followed a man sweeping the street and Alfie could scarcely resist pouncing on the broom.

Overall, though, I think Alfie is doing really well for a just-turned-4-months puppy! In the video below you'll see us crossing the street...he gets distracted by something on the pavement and veers off a bit, but comes back to my side after that. He does a good job waiting for me on the "up" curb, although right after that he's distracted by the live music blaring out of a cafe. It's all part of the learning experience!

Alfie's face looking up, mouth open in a happy expression

So how'd I do?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My Dog Didn't Go Off

Alfie on his back asleep in his crate, hind legs splayed out, ear hanging out of one corner

In my days teaching in private and public schools, I've heard many excuses for tardiness.  Of course the old classic is, "My alarm didn't go off."  Not much of an excuse if you ask me...especially because I've found a pretty strong correlation between its not going off and its never getting set in the first place!

But this morning I was the one who about two hours, shame on me!  I'd quit setting my alarm because Alfie always woke me between 6:30 and 7:00.  He is also the first puppy I've had who wakes me up by growling!  Not a mean or angry growl, it's more of a play growl that goes up at the end, as if he's asking why I'm still asleep.  Grrr?...wag, wag...grrr?, pant...until I give in and roll out of bed.  As soon as I let him out he cuddles up in my  lap and tries to make up for waking me by snuggling and licking me in that wonderful puppy way.

I must've been tired because when I awoke to the sounds of conversation in the dining room I thought fuzzily, "Wow -- the kids are sure up early!"  But then I checked the clock and oops, it was I who was up late.  My first irrational, half-asleep thought when I saw Alfie still snoozing in his crate:  Oh no, he must've died!  On further inspection, he was quite well -- thank goodness.  I leaned over his crate and growled -- just to get back at him!

Next, I think I'll teach her to "speak."

Wow, I guess he's growing up!  I'll be setting my alarm clock again tomorrow.