Thursday, April 29, 2010

He Otter Know Better

Alfie's in love...with an otter.  A sweet, soft, furry plush otter that has lived peacefully in our family for years...until now!
plush, chocolate-brown stuffed otter propped up against the wall; it has a cute white face but its left ear has been gnawed off
Note to viewers:  This otter HAD a left ear...until yesterday!

Alfie developed otter envy just recently and first attempted the direct approach to attain his prize: barking at the otter owner (Katharine). When he saw that she wasn't about to be pushed around by a puppy, he resorted to thievery, snagging the otter when her back was turned. That might've worked, but later I noticed that every time I walked by where Alf lay on his dog bed he was suspiciously still. This is abnormal behavior for him...usually when I walk past he pops up and follows me instantly. Definitely hiding something! I very unceremoniously removed his prize, returned it to Katharine, and told him, in no uncertain terms, that he must "leave it!"

Alfie sitting alertly, otter next to his feet, a serious look on his face
I would never harm this otter, I swear!

Here's where it gets interesting. You see, just last week, Alfie got in trouble for grabbing the metal plug out of the tub and frolicking around the house with it. So his little furry brain has figured out: they like the plug. And: I like the otter. So he hops into the tub, grabs the plug, trots over to Katharine with it, and lays it gently on her lap. She looks at him, puzzled...he noses the plug toward her again, then gazes loooongingly at the otter (hint, hint!) His logic was plain: I have something you have something I want...let's trade!!

Alfie's got a lot to learn see, his plan broke down on 2 points: 1) Katharine, personally, could care less about the bathtub plug -- especially compared to her beloved otter; and 2) I, personally, have watched enough action movies to know: You never deal with terrorists! Or (I'm sure) puppies acting like terrorists! Nice try, Alfie, but all this clever trick earned you was several rounds of puppy pushups and a loss of freedom.  (Tethering a puppy to you for a few hours works wonders, in my experience.)

But uh...I'll admit...I couldn't help laughing!  Just a bit.

closeup of Alfie's brown face resting on the floor by the backdoor
Ummm...just trying to work out...are they laughing WITH me or AT me?!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Back to Normal...For Now...

Alfie's sitting in a bed of jasmine vines at the base of a tree
Monday we got Alfie back from the Travis County Jail, where he'd joined guide dog puppy Piper at the Pawsitive Approach Program. I forgot my camera in the car so no pictures...rats! I enjoyed meeting his handler. She'd obviously done some good work with him and you could tell Alfie liked her a lot. She said that he did "test" her at first, but then settled in and worked well. Other than being too vocal toward Piper (which alas, doesn't surprise me), it sounds like he did all right (even on his down/stays, hooray!) They said they'd be happy to have him again any time. That was good news -- I'm always worried about how "my" puppies behave away from home!

My time away was truly wonderful, but of course it's good to be home, and good to get back to routine. Today I took Alfie with me while I ran some errands and decided to stop by Garden Ridge since I've never worked him there before. I asked him to "find the girls" (ladies' restroom) and he took off confidently to the right. I was pretty sure they were to the left, past the registers, but then again they'd done a remodel so I gave Alf the benefit of the doubt. Sure enough, he went straight to them! Good boy!

Alfie's got more excitement coming up on his calendar: on May 8 we'll be going to Splash Day, an annual fun event hosted by Guide Dogs of Texas. A few of us raisers will be doing a swap at that time, so I'll come home with a new puppy for a month...stay tuned for that! Going to live and work in a new environment with a new handler is always a good learning experience for the puppies.

top view of Alfie, blue work jacket on, as he gets ready to jump in the open door of the vanNew people? New places? Let's get going!

Friday, April 23, 2010

What Do Dogs Pick Up?

closeup of Alfie's face; he's lying on some pebbles and looking down as he noses them intently
Well, I'd like to pick up one of these rocks, but you won't let me.

No, I'm not talking about what dogs grab in their mouths! I'm talking about what dogs learn...without your intentionally teaching them.

Alfie demonstrated his ability to "pick up" on things when we were at a state park not long ago. The kids and I had gone to the car with Alfie to get a drink, while Tim stopped off at the visitor center. Walking up to the visitor center after our water break, I couldn't see Tim anywhere. For that matter, I couldn't even really tell which was the front or the back of the building (poor signage)...sigh! Then it occurred to me that Alfie's canine superpowers could come in handy in locating our "missing person."

"Alfie...find Daddy!"

Alf responded immediately, tail wagging. Nose to the ground, he led me to a door; but then instead of asking to go in, he switched over to scenting the air, mouth open...leading me around a corner and down some steps to a covered area with picnic tables where Tim was sitting. You should've seen his happy prancing! Tim told us later that Alfie followed his exact path.

Of course I've never actually taught him to find people; but we do "find" a lot of other things in the course of our training (doors, stairs, trash cans, elevators, name a few). Since he also knows who "Daddy" is, he could easily figure out what "find Daddy" means. This can't be all that unusual a thing for dogs to "pick up", because our last two GDTx puppies picked up on finding family members also. It can be used to extremely unfair advantage in a game of hide-and-seek, for one thing!

I'd love to get some reader response on this one. What has your dog "picked up"? Come on, brag on him (or her) a little, you know you want to! I'd be very interested to read your comments. Our dogs' intelligence and adaptability are a big part of what make them such good helpers...and interesting companions!

Alfie is looking intently off to the left, mouth open, as he lies amongst some leaves
You only think I'm not paying attention...really I'm learning all the time!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Fetching Personality

...that's what Alfie has!

Alfie running toward me across the green grass, a big rubber stick in his mouth, ears flying out to the side

Guide dog puppies must play a more controlled version of fetch than their pet dog counterparts. First, Alfie has to sit nicely. Then I throw the toy and he must wait until it completely stops moving. Finally, I ask him to "watch me" and only then can he, on my command, "fetch"!

Alfie's running toward me with his toy again, but this time his ears are down and his tail out to the side

I know, I know, it sounds like we puppy raisers are a bunch of control freaks! But really, by playing the game in this way, he learns to focus on me while at the same time strengthening his self-control. Not only that, he gets a lot of exercise...not bad for a game of fetch!

Alfie delivers the toy to me -- he's so close I barely snapped the picture before he dropped it on my foot!

I read somewhere once that the innate desire to retrieve was a good indicator of a puppy's future success as a guide dog. While I'm not sure of the accuracy of that statement, I certainly hope that in Alfie's case it holds true! What do you think?

Alfie's face looks up all wide-eyed and panting
I think that after that, I need a drink.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Alf in Action

I thought it'd be fun to share a bit of what Alfie's working on these days. This walk happened to be in a nearby neighborhood.

front view of Alfie ready to work, just unloaded from the car; he's looking up at me and his tail is up
I'm ready...let's get goin'!

The first obstacle to get around was these cars, parked so that they blocked the path of the sidewalk. Alfie pauses and works around them...nice...although eventually he should do this without sniffing the ground!

He also works on keeping in guide position, as I change my walking speed from fast, to slow, to fast again. Alfie thinks this is fun. We both prefer a faster walking pace, but he needs to be able to adapt.

Of course we get lots of practice crossing the street. Alfie must sit at the "down" curb (here, it's really a textured pavement ramp), and then also wait for me to get my footing on the "up" curb before we continue.

It's important for him to work calmly despite this mean-sounding dog. I was proud of Alfie for this!!

Here's an interesting obstacle. The bushes have overgrown the sidewalk on the right, but you can't get by on the left either because there's a big pole right there. You have to step down on the street to walk past. On Alfie's first walk here, I showed him how to work it by going to the curb, sitting, going down, then walking past the obstacle on street level before getting back up on the sidewalk to continue. The second time we approached it (a couple weeks later) he improvised an easier solution...anticipating the obstacle ahead, he uses the sloping driveway to walk down to street level. That way he doesn't have the extra step of sitting at the down curb.

...So, that's just a little taste of what we've been up to on our walks. Right now, though, Alfie's off to a new adventure. I have a trip planned this coming week and so Alf is going to join Officer Mullins and the crew at Travis County Jail's Pawsitive Approach Program. We'll miss him but I'm pretty sure he'll have a terrific time making new friends and working in new places! Stay tuned because I'll have a couple posts coming out while I'm gone...just in case you need a "chocolate" fix over the next week!

closeup, side view, of Alfie's head in our van as we get ready to go

I like adventures!

Monday, April 12, 2010

That's Why They're Called Prickly Pears

Poor Alfie.  Sometimes he has to learn things the hard way.  You might even call it a "sharp" learning curve.  

Alfie lying in the grass, a worried look on his face
Really, life can be tough on a 6-month-old puppy...

The family was out walking a hike and bike trail together...Charissa and Katharine had fallen behind, so since we were coming up near a bench I asked Alfie to "find the seat."  Tim and I were resting and chatting when all of a sudden, Alfie jumps up snorting from where I thought he was settled in.  I looked and oh no...there was a prickly pear right behind our seat, and it gets pad of the cactus was most definitely slobbered on!! 

closeup of a prickly pear cactus, with its sharp, hairlike spines poking out all over
This is not, I repeat NOT, a chew toy!!

Closer inspection showed 3 or 4 little green spines stuck in Alf's nose and upper lip.  Fortunately they were relatively soft, and came out quite easily.  Afterward he seemed none the worse for wear.  Here he is in front of the bench (post-op, of course!) can barely notice the prickly pear but it's on the left hiding sneakily behind some weeds.

Alfie panting eagerly in the foreground; in the background you can see a bench and the prickly pear behind it
Let's get back to our walk, Mom, really, I'm fine!

I felt badly for not seeing the hazard ahead of time.  It was also a reminder of the importance of teaching puppies NOT to grab things in their mouths while out working!  Usually my focus is getting Alfie to leave food crumbs and trash alone in stores and restaurants as an important part of guide dog etiquette.  But etiquette aside, there are many things dogs could pick up which might harm them as well.  Clearly, this lesson is a work in progress!

Apart from the cactus incident, we all had a great time.  At the beginning I fell a bit behind the others, watching some birds, and Alfie became rather fractious -- always wanting to pull ahead.  Of course every time he did that I had to "heel" him and we just fell farther back.  When we finally did catch up, however, he transformed into a perfect angel, with the best loose leash walking you could ask for, even when passing other dogs.  He'd much rather lead than follow!
My family sits on a low stone wall in front of a bank of blue and yellow wildflowers; Alfie is lying down at Charissa's feet
Some of my favorite people, one of my favorite puppies...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Deer Shouldn't Talk

Last week we visited Cabela's...Alfie's first trip there.

The kids, their Grandpa, and Alfie are seated at the base of an equestrian statue in front of Cabela's.
Everything's more fun when Grandpa's here for a visit!

It's a great place for training, with a giant aquarium; taxidermy exhibits; elevators AND stairs for puppies to find and navigate; a cafe; and, usually, crowds of people too. First stop was the walk-thru aquarium...sorry, no good pictures of Alfie to share...but Katharine did almost get eaten by a giant catfish!

Katharine standing in front of an aquarium, which starts about knee high and goes up to the ceiling; a giant catfish, almost as large as she, is swimming straight for her head
Close encounters of the catfish kind.

...Well, maybe not, but the big guy did seem to be following her around! Alf was kinda bored by it all. Next, it was off to Africa.

Alfie in a down/stay in front of a taxidermy exhibit featuring a huge rhino
Um...are we sure it's a good idea to practice down/stay in front of this giant rhino?!

After that, I let Alfie find the elevator. I thought the puppies found elevators by the appearance of the doors...but as Grandpa pointed out, Alfie circled sniffing until he found it. Is there an elevator smell? I don't know. Anyway, he found it and we went up...and meandered around until...

[The video shows Alfie transfixed by an animatronic deer's head that is mounted up high near the ceiling. It's motion activated, so every time we start to move away we set it off again. Alfie's ears are flicking back and forth as he watches the deer's mouth and head move while it talks. He doesn't seem to like it, and yet he doesn't want to leave either!]

I've never seen a dog react to the talking deer quite like Alfie! One puppy I remember just sort of tuned the noise out and didn't look for its source; another one saw the talking head but was more interested in other things. Alfie spotted it immediately and didn't want to let it out of his sight! We stayed there the longest time, and even as we finally walked away he would turn around and peek at it some more over his shoulder. Funny puppy!

Alfie looking thoughtful, one ear flipped back
If they won't let me "speak," a deer should definitely not be allowed to talk!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

An Enchanted Day

You might well wonder where this picture was taken -- in a wind tunnel?  We have quite the silly hairdos!

my face is next to Alfie's as I sit on the ground, he's standing; our hair is blowing straight back in the wind

The answer is, we were atop this giant rock. 

a large gray dome of rock against bright blue sky; the base is surrounded by scrubby trees and there are teeny little people climbing in the distance

Yes, those little specklike things on top are actually people!  Enchanted Rock is a granite dome that rises 425 feet above the surrounding Texas hill country, covering an area of 640 acres.  That's a lotta rock!  To climb it, you begin by following a trail through a brushy, boulder-strewn area...but when you get to the rock itself, the trail comes to an end and you just start walking up. 

I'm standing on a hillside of smooth granite, offering a treat to Alfie as he sits beside me, his ears blown back in the wind

It's steep, but actually not as bad as I thought it'd be...pretty much just a giant hill, only made of rock.  Nonetheless, I thought taking a break halfway up would be a smart idea!

We're silhouetted against the sky as I sit on a low rock, Alfie sitting in front of me, my daughter standing nearby

Several times I would reach the horizon of what I'd thought was the peak, only to see that it actually stretched away much further than I'd imagined!  Of course Alfie found all this quite exhilarating.  He behaved well on leash and seemed to enjoy taking in the new experience, all the while keeping to his guide-dog "rules" and working through any obstacles that cropped up.  If there's one thing for sure about Alfie, it's that he loves a good this was right up his alley.  He wasn't the only dog to make the hike -- we passed a couple of terrier types on the descent -- but he pretty much ignored them (yay!) 

All in all, it was a great day...and a fun new experience for all of us!

My daughter and I are seated on the flat top of the rock, which stretches across the horizon; we're far away so you can see it's really huge; Alfie's standing next to us
We're on top of the world!

closeup of Alfie's face as his fur is whipped up in the wind, giving it a decidedly spiky look; he's panting and bright-eyed
I came, I smelled, I conquered!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Nail-Polish Peril

Sandal weather has definitely arrived!  On Saturday I decided it was time for some pretty toenail polish.  Now, I don't wear polish on my fingers (can't seem to keep my hands still long enough for it to dry)...and on my toes, only in the warmer weather.  So this was the first time I'd gotten the polish out since Alfie joined our family.  I opened the bottle and...GRRR...WOOF!

"Alfie, quiet." 

"Mmmggg."  He knows how to growl with his mouth closed...keeping the letter of the law while still registering his disapproval!  I ignore him and attempt to continue...

"Woo-roo-roo!"  Now he's bouncing around, all sassy.  I have him sit, and then down, while I finish.  Phew!  Okay, so far so good.

closeup of the bottom of the nail polish bottle; it's purple polish, and the title is A Grape Fit
Maybe it's just the color he doesn't like...

A few minutes later, it's time for the second coat.  I wait til Alfie's out of the room...laid out in the flying-squirrel position...looks asleep.  Yay!!  I sneak back to my bathroom and ever so quietly unscrew the polish.

"Gruff, WOOF-WOOF-WOOF!"  He's back in the doorway, jumping around and barking red alert.  Nothing wrong with that nose I guess!  I shrug and ignore him...he stalks off looking a bit offended that I didn't take his dire warning seriously.

The good news?  When I did the girls' nails for Easter he totally ignored it.  Well, almost totally...he did leave the room!

closeup of Alfie's scruffy face
I'm telling you, I get no respect around here!